Emily May's Reviews > Normal People

Normal People by Sally Rooney
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really liked it
bookshelves: 2019, contemporary

No one can be independent of other people completely, so why not give up the attempt, she thought, go running in the other direction, depend on people for everything, allow them to depend on you, why not.

This is going to be a polarizing book. I mean, I think I liked it. And I say "liked it" in the sense that it made me very miserable. It is a quiet character study, almost a YA novel but not quite, and it is a profoundly lonely and depressing love story.

I didn't begin by liking it. Normal People follows two characters - Marianne and Connell - through adolescence and into early adulthood, and they begin by being the kind of uber-precocious teenagers who read Proust and Marx for fun. It took a while for me to settle into their story. My initial impression was that this was going to be some kind of John Green for adults, which is not something that floats my particular boat.

Without fully realizing it though, this book had crept quietly under my skin. The relationship between Marianne and Connell is angsty, sure, but it felt painfully real. They are so flawed, marred by unlikable characteristics, and yet, I could not stop caring about them.
Not for the first time Marianne thinks cruelty does not only hurt the victim, but the perpetrator also, and maybe more deeply and more permanently. You learn nothing very profound about yourself simply by being bullied; but by bullying someone else you learn something you can never forget.

The story is really just about the two of them and their relationship. In high school, Marianne is a smart and wealthy girl, but is socially ostracized and emotionally abused at home, whereas Connell is working class, but very popular. Connell's mum works as a cleaner for Marianne's family. They begin a secret sexual relationship that falls apart when Connell fears his friends will find out. The compelling dynamic between them drives the story-- issues of class and social status cause much conflict.

In college, the two meet again. This time, Marianne is popular, and Connell is feeling increasingly depressed. The two of them lean on each other time and again as they move through a social world filled with social expectations. There's a bit of a When Harry Met Sally vibe, except that this book is more soul-destroying.
Nothing had meant more to Rob than the approval of others; to be thought well of, to be a person of status. He would have betrayed any confidence, any kindness, for the promise of social acceptance.

There's clear criticism of our constant need to impress and perform for others in a world that grows ever more connected. Much of the tragedy that befalls Marianne and Connell is caused by other people, peer pressure and social expectations. It is very sad to think that someone might give up who they love the most because they can't deal with how it makes them look to others.

The pair's inability to adequately communicate is frustrating but feels realistic. I was on the verge of tearing my hair out at all the things left unsaid in this book, but I think it was a good kind of frustration. The kind that comes from caring too much.

I feel like there are any number of reasons I could have hated Normal People, but I didn’t. I actually kinda loved it. It's a weird, awkward, depressing novel about a connection formed between two very different people who find exactly what they need - and perhaps a lot that they don't - in each other.

CW: sexual assault; domestic abuse; drug use; casual racism (called out); depression; anxiety; suicide & suicidal ideation.

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Comments Showing 1-18 of 18 (18 new)

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message 1: by Ashlyn (new) - added it

Ashlyn Based on your overall review i feel like I want to read this book to see if we share the same opinion. Overall though, the title really grasped my interest before i read your review. Hope to not be disappointed!


message 2: by Esha (new)

Esha Hi Emily.i love your reviews. can you do your review on the seven realms series?


Lisa Wilkinson Your review is very similar to how I felt. I didn’t love it at first but it crept up on me. I was in the car one day and all of a sudden I just burst out crying and felt so sad. It’s so hard to explain why though. Maybe reminded me of how I felt whilst I was at uni and trying to fit into that world and the mistakes I made.


Stacey I read this last month, read it in a day. I had to run some errands halfway through and just could not stop thinking about Connell and Marianne. I agree wholeheartedly with your review. The characters really got under my skin.


Joanna Barry I tried really hard but I just couldn't like this (also failed to get on board the love fest for her first novel), maybe growing up in Ireland I just knew too many people who were exactly these characters and the experiences were just too real to me. Mainly I just found the author's style a bit condescending, I dunno. Art provokes reaction, so job done I guess 😁


Emily May Joanna wrote: "I tried really hard but I just couldn't like this (also failed to get on board the love fest for her first novel), maybe growing up in Ireland I just knew too many people who were exactly these cha..."

I really do get it. I could see straight away why some wouldn't like it, but it just somehow ended up working for me.


Naqvi Hussain Finished it just few days back and was waiting for you to review... didn't expect my waiting to be so short lived. Love your reviews by the way.


message 8: by Karon (new) - added it

Karon Buxton Did you read and enjoy conversations with friends , I really struggled with that one so have been put off from trying this ; think 🤔 il wait for the paperback and give it a go


message 9: by Elizabeth (new) - added it

Elizabeth Your review is wonderful--you really conveyed how and why the book worked and I'm adding it. Thank you!


Emily May Esha wrote: "Hi Emily.i love your reviews. can you do your review on the seven realms series?"

Thank you! I enjoyed and reviewed Flamecaster, but I've never read the original Seven Realms books. Maybe someday!


Emily May Naqvi wrote: "Finished it just few days back and was waiting for you to review... didn't expect my waiting to be so short lived. Love your reviews by the way."

Thank you :)


Emily May Karon wrote: "Did you read and enjoy conversations with friends , I really struggled with that one so have been put off from trying this ; think 🤔 il wait for the paperback and give it a go"

Nope, this is my first read by Rooney. What went wrong with that one and I can tell you if they're similar?


Emily May Elizabeth wrote: "Your review is wonderful--you really conveyed how and why the book worked and I'm adding it. Thank you!"

Thank you, Elizabeth. Hope you like it :)


message 14: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura Yes, I know the type of novels you mean, the ones where you both like it, because it is good, but dont' because it is disturbing.


Kirsteen I read it a few months ago and felt the same as you. I kinda loved it, but it wasn’t a good feeling, I just felt hollowed out and sad afterwards. I’m so glad you were able to put the experience into words more elegantly than I could.


message 16: by Loco (new) - rated it 3 stars

Loco This sound really good. great review!


message 17: by Kat (new)

Kat T Fantastic review Emily. I’ve just finished reading it and I liked it but I’m not keen on all the stilted unspoken conversation between Marianne and Connell. I found the same with the characters in Conversations with Friends. I still love the way Sally writes about class and love. I’ll still read Sally and I’ve recommended her to my daughters to read.


Emily May Kat wrote: "Fantastic review Emily. I’ve just finished reading it and I liked it but I’m not keen on all the stilted unspoken conversation between Marianne and Connell. I found the same with the characters in ..."

Thank you, Kat. I can definitely see what you mean. I actually expected this book to annoy me more, but it just worked for me ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


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