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Archive: Other Books > Normal People by Sally Rooney -- 5 stars + ♥ + absolute and total obsession + all time favorite

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message 1: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments Normal People by Sally Rooney
5 stars + ♥ + obsession + one of my favorite books of all time

I have zero hope of capturing my love for this story in mere words. But, I am going to give it my best shot. Fair warning: this review is long. I kept the spoilers to the very end.

This book first caught my eye when it was longlisted for the 2018 Booker Prize. But, Booker and I do not always see eye-to-eye so, despite absolute rave review from Susie and Nicole D, I never picked it up. I then received a copy about a year ago from my boss, who has excellent taste in books. I still wasn't convinced. But THEN, I watched the series adapted on Hulu and fell instantly in obsession.

I watched the Hulu series twice, then grabbed the book off my bookshelf and stayed up all night to read it. Y'all, I cannot put into words how much this story story spoke to me. I have not yet failed to be brought to tears or to feel a literal ache in my heart for these characters. Each time I experience the story, I recognize some new fact or detail.

And the story is not complex. Connell and Marianne are two high school seniors in western Ireland who start sleeping together. This is simply the story of them coming together and drifting apart, as lovers and as friends, from then through college.

But, you know what is complex? These characters. They both struggle with being accepted. By family, by friends, by society, by themselves. And those struggles impact their relationship. They are young, late teens into early twenties, and they are insecure. They are figuring out who they are. They still worry about not fitting in or being judged. And y'all, that is so REAL. Even though they are most open and honest with each other, those insecurities and anxieties keep them holding back little bits of themselves that the other person desperately wants to have access to. I wanted to scream at them so many times, JUST TELL HIM/HER WHAT YOU ARE THINKING AND WHAT YOU WANT. But, I also understand and relate to why they didn't share the deepest, ugliest parts of themself. That is scary.

In the show, the acting blew my mind. These actors really put themselves out there, and not just because of the large amount of sex and nudity*, but they just seemed vulnerable and projected so much emotion in their facial expressions and body movements. It felt intimate. However, it was the book, with descriptions of the characters inner thoughts, that made me truly appreciate and understand their motivations. I better understood Connell's anxiety, and I cannot stop thinking about Marianne's complex relationship with sex.**

The whole story was hopeful, sad, sweet, and upsetting. All without ever feeling like any emotions were being manipulated to get there. The ending was not tied up in a bow, but left you with a little bit of hope for these two people who are very flawed, but somehow found each other, connect, love each other, and seem to always be there when the other needs it.

It is a rare book—and even rarer show—that I want to analyze. That I want to write out my thoughts and feelings in a paper or talk about them with a friend. But this is what this story makes me want to do. Thankfully, I convinced one of my best friends to watch the show and read the book, and she completed both tasks in just over 24 hours. She is as obsessed as I am and we are Zooming tomorrow night for the sole purpose of talking about this book. And I cannot wait.

This is a book that I will read again and again. These are characters that I will never forget. And, Sally Rooney, you are brilliant.

*A note on the sex and nudity. There are a ton of articles out there about the sex and nudity if you want to read more before committing to watching the show, but here is my two cents. The sex and nudity feel organic. It doesn't feel prurient or egregious or used for shock value. It is not crazy physical, clothes being ripped off sex (which, honestly, isn't that common). It is two people who have a relationship and have sex. The scenes are shot primarily with close ups from lower ribs up, focusing on the faces of the characters and the actors portray their emotions during these scenes so well. Yes, there are wider screen shots of the sex as well, but even then it never felt egregious to me. And the nudity is largely post sex when they are laying together talking. Or walking out of the shower to randomly grab clothes. It is casual. The focus is not that one of them is naked, it is that they are in a relationship and doing what people comfortable in a relationship do. Ironically, there is very little on-page sex in the book.

**Oh man, I could write a PhD dissertation on Marianne's relationship with sex. On how her own feelings of inadequacy, fueled by her emotionally abusive home life, make her feel like she deserves to be treated poorly and harmed. At first, I thought that (view spoiler) But, after reading the book, I am not convinced that was the case. A bit of me thinks that Marianne (view spoiler) And THAT is a complicated character. And I don't think Connell was perfect in that way. He was very clearly aware of the control he had over Marianne, but even he questioned where that power came from. (view spoiler) But, I also kind of feel like (view spoiler) I just can't tell. And while sometimes too much ambiguity in books drives me crazy, I love it here. My friend and I will definitely be talking about this on our Zoom tomorrow.


message 2: by Susie (new)

Susie | 4488 comments I am SO glad that you are so in love with this story. We’ve watched 8 episodes and it is absolutely brilliant. The acting, the cinematography, the soundtrack, everything. Their ability to convey so much while saying so little is blowing my mind. As you mentioned, in the book we were able to be inside their heads, and I didn’t know how they would translate that to the screen, but my misgivings were unnecessary. I rarely reread books but I’m going to read it again once I’ve finished the series. I’m busting to see the adaptation of Conversations With Friends now.


message 3: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments Susie wrote: "The acting, the cinematography, the soundtrack, everything. Their ability to convey so much while saying so little is blowing my mind."

I 100% agree with this statement. I thought everything about it was so well thought out and smart. Also, there is a Normal People Spotify playlist. I can neither confirm nor deny that I have listened to it on loop for the last two days: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2wX...

I’m busting to see the adaptation of Conversations With Friends now.

I just ordered CWF based on your recommendation and I cannot wait to dive into it. And I will for sure be watching the Hulu adaptation. Also, I hope Rooney is working on a new novel. I will be first in line to preorder it.

In semi-related news, have you seen the news articles where people complain about the "explicit sex"?! I so strongly disagree with the descriptor of "explicit" as it pertains to how sex is portrayed in the show, but I know that some people think any sex is explicit. So, I guess?

But someone described it as being dropped into a porn video. And my thought was, "have you actually seen porn?" I am not a porn connoisseur but I am 99% sure that it is much different than Normal People.


message 4: by Meli (new)

Meli (melihooker) | 3255 comments I hadn't seen any complaints about "explicit sex" but that it became redundant because it was excessive... but I haven't read the book or seen the show so I can't comment.
However, I don't think it would bother me personally.

I am really looking forward to reading this and glad you loved it! That is promising. We have different reading tastes but this sounds like the kind of complex character-driven story of lovers I would enjoy based on your review.


message 5: by Nicole R (last edited May 12, 2020 09:34AM) (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments Meli wrote: "I hadn't seen any complaints about "explicit sex" but that it became redundant because it was excessive... but I haven't read the book or seen the show so I can't comment.
However, I don't think i..."


I guess I can see where people say it is explicit, it is fairly realistic and definitely does not "fade to black." To me, explicit has this connotation that it is overly graphic or unnecessary to the storyline. I don't know, it is hard to explain, but I didn't feel like that at all. It felt like just a part of the story. I will be interested to hear your thoughts if you decide to watch it.

I think this is one of the rare books that we would agree on. Admittedly, I am much more in love with it than all but one of my RL friends (and I think Susie is up there with me as well), so perhaps modify your expectations a bit. lol

And, if you hate either the show or the book, please be kind to me when you rip it apart. lol


message 6: by Michael (new)

Michael (mike999) | 569 comments Bravo for such a wonderful review. Nice to be able to be definitive. So often I get stuck with a 3 star or 3.5 rounded up painfully weighing the good and bad in reading experience.


message 7: by Joi (new)

Joi (missjoious) | 3813 comments YAY!! Love all the thoughts, this was such a hard book to review, and you really captured it!

I gave this 4 stars, not 5- but went back to my review, and didn't see any negatives. You've made me really excited to watch the show, and I have a feeling the show lends itself well to dig even deeper than the book did with the relationships, and yes-the sex. Sounds like a lot of the power/control aspects of the sex are explored more in the show, and I'm here for the R rating! Lol.


message 8: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments Joi wrote: "YAY!! Love all the thoughts, this was such a hard book to review, and you really captured it!

I gave this 4 stars, not 5- but went back to my review, and didn't see any negatives. You've made me ..."


Joi, I missed your rave review of this book! I am so glad you loved it too. The show does an excellent job of tracking the book, even using much of the direct dialogue, so you will likely find much of it very familiar. There are a few extra scenes (though not many) and the location of some of the events changed (like from a bedroom in the book to a living room in the show), but ultimately I think the changes were all positive.

Sounds like a lot of the power/control aspects of the sex are explored more in the show, and I'm here for the R rating! Lol.

Oddly, I think the power/control aspects of the sex are actually better explored in the book because you have the benefit of their inner thoughts, but I think that the show uses sex between Connell and Marianne to add dimension to their relationship and connection, and definitely touches on the power/control aspect. Almost as an attempt to give you insight to their thoughts through those intimate moments.

But, girl, I am also here for the R rating. Oh, and be prepared to 100% to fall for the guy who plays Connell. lol.


message 9: by Meli (new)

Meli (melihooker) | 3255 comments I will probably not get to see the show anytime soon because I don't have Hulu, but I've seen the previews and it made my heart ache a little (in a good way).

I will definitely bump this up the tbr based on your review!


message 10: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments Meli wrote: "I will probably not get to see the show anytime soon because I don't have Hulu, but I've seen the previews and it made my heart ache a little (in a good way).

I will definitely bump this up the t..."


Hulu offers a 7-day free trial. You only need 6 hours to binge this show, leaving plenty of time to watch a few other selections (maybe Little Fires Everywhere?) before cancelling it without paying. 😈 lol

But, glad that you may at least get to the book sooner rather than later!


message 11: by Joi (new)

Joi (missjoious) | 3813 comments Girl, you got me wanting to start the show tonight AND go back and rate it 5 stars instead of 4, lol.


message 12: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments Joi wrote: "Girl, you got me wanting to start the show tonight AND go back and rate it 5 stars instead of 4, lol."

YESSS!!! I love being an enabler! lol


message 13: by Meli (new)

Meli (melihooker) | 3255 comments Nicole R wrote: "Meli wrote: "I will probably not get to see the show anytime soon because I don't have Hulu, but I've seen the previews and it made my heart ache a little (in a good way).

I will definitely bump ..."


Unfortunately we already used a free trial so they won't let us again :P


message 14: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments Meli wrote: "Unfortunately we already used a free trial so they won't let us again :P"

Now THAT I can totally relate too. I am saving my Apple TV free trial for when I have a free week to binge everything on there I want. lol. You only get one shot!


message 15: by Meli (last edited May 12, 2020 01:23PM) (new)

Meli (melihooker) | 3255 comments Nicole R wrote: "Meli wrote: "Unfortunately we already used a free trial so they won't let us again :P"

Now THAT I can totally relate too. I am saving my Apple TV free trial for when I have a free week to binge ev..."


Smart!

I am sure I can find a way to watch it sometime, use my mom's login or something, but I want to read the book first.
I am surprised you did it the other way around, but it is good to know it works either way.


message 16: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments Meli wrote: "I am surprised you did it the other way around, but it is good to know it works either way."

I surprised myself a bit too. But, in the time of the quarantine, I have been watching much more TV than reading.

I thought I would just watch the first episode to see if I liked it and then maybe read the book before finishing, but suddenly there I was, 6 hours later finishing the Hulu series. lol


message 17: by Meli (new)

Meli (melihooker) | 3255 comments I can relate to that!


message 18: by Susie (new)

Susie | 4488 comments Interestingly it is not rated R here in Australia. I think our censorship is a little less restrictive. I agree wholeheartedly with Nicole that the sex is definitely relevant and necessary to the storyline. It is in no way gratuitous. It helps us to experience the intensity and complexity of their relationship. I have read articles full of negativity about the full frontal nudity, which I think is due to the male nudity and that annoys me greatly! No one bats an eyelid when females are nude in film.


message 19: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments I agree, Susie! No one has commented that she is topless for a not insignificant amount of time, but full frontal male nudity is really getting people up in arms!

It is rated MA here for Mature Audiences. TV has a different rating from movies, but I have zero doubt it would be R if it were a movie here in the US. In fact, I wonder what the requirements are for an NC-17 restriction....


message 20: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments On a non-Sex note, I also saw and interesting article about how this would have been a horrible movie adaption because that 2 hour format would jut not be enough time to do this story and these characters Justice. The article also mentioned Big Little Lies and Little Fires Everywhere.

I thought that was really interesting. I feel like movies have previously been the gold standard for measuring success of adapting a book, and tv was kind of a disappointment.

But I do feel like that is starting to change with the rise in streaming services, the amount of money put toward quality production, and actors’ willingness to be in TV.

Now actual revenues off that platform is different, but I think it is definitely a trend.


message 21: by Joi (new)

Joi (missjoious) | 3813 comments I feel like once HBO did GoT, that opened the doors for lots more GOOD book adaptations to TV.

I really like that TV adaptions are getting bigger- the ability to dive deeper into characters and show more than we get in the book is huge. Movies rarely do that, and still cut out chunks of the books!


message 22: by Susie (new)

Susie | 4488 comments There’s definitely a shift, isn’t there? TV adaptations have become exceptional. There’s no way Normal People could have conveyed the depth of feeling in a few hours.


message 23: by Karin (last edited May 14, 2020 02:10PM) (new)

Karin | 7016 comments Susie wrote: "There’s definitely a shift, isn’t there? TV adaptations have become exceptional. There’s no way Normal People could have conveyed the depth of feeling in a few hours."

TV has come a LONG way (well, there is still plenty of garbage out there). It is still such a new medium given that it is less than 100 years old and it's been around all of our lives, so it often feels older than it is. TV acting has improved overall (there are still actors on TV who aren't that good, etc) as well. Cinematography in general has developed a great deal as well.

One movie that really kept the feel of the book that both my mother and I liked was the film for Snow Falling on Cedars even though they had to cut many things due to the length of the book.


message 24: by Andrew (new)

Andrew | 16 comments SPOILER ALERT - DON'T READ UNLESS YOU HAVE SEEN THE SERIES OR READ THE BOOK!
So glad I found this discussion group! I can't get this book out of my head. The more I think about it the more I discover. When is sex not sex? When it's in Normal People! I'm currently spinning in circles as to whether Marianne is a masochist. I don't think she is. I currently going through the novel again poring over every word to find something that would indict she is. I even thought I had the definition wrong (depending on where you look there seem to be different definitions). The Marianne in the short story "At The Clinic" is a masochist, the Marianne in the TV series might be a masochist but the Marianne of the novel.... not so sure. When I read the novel for the first time I read it as abuse and I can't get away from that initial first impression. Marianne does not use sex for pleasure unless she is with Connell. Even then this takes place mainly at the beginning of the novel. At the end when he refuses to hurt her and she pulls away people are reading this as her being a masochist and getting the huff on. Even Connell is given the line "Marianne is a masochist and Connell is simply too nice of a guy to hit a woman. This, after all, is the literal level on which the incident took place. She asked him to hit her and when he said he didn’t want to, she wanted to stop having sex. So why, despite its factual accuracy, does this feel like a dishonest way of narrating what happened?" I'm reading this as Marianne allowed him to hit her. She neither desired it nor wanted it. In other words she is permitting the abuse but is this maschoism? The definition of masochism I'm using here is from dictionary.com and reads:
Psychiatry. a person who has masochism, the condition in which sexual or other gratification depends on one's suffering physical pain or humiliation.
a person who is gratified by pain, degradation, etc., that is self-imposed or imposed by others.
a person who finds pleasure in self-denial, submissiveness, etc.
The reason I say Marianne is not a masochist is because she is not getting sexual (or any other) gratification from it. As I said before she allows it but only because she hopes it will give her partner pleasure, not her.
I'm really interested in what other people think about this. And can anyone point me in the direction (with examples from the text - (it's an English assignment) if possible) of what I am missing?
Incidentally, I read the novel as when Connell refuses to hit her he is giving her back her self respect. He is telling her (through sex) that she is worth something. As this is at odds with her world view of herself she is upset, stops the sex and goes home. However it is from this point that Marianne starts to heal. Connell redeems her through this.


message 25: by Nicole R (last edited May 15, 2020 04:08AM) (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments Andrew wrote: "SPOILER ALERT - DON'T READ UNLESS YOU HAVE SEEN THE SERIES OR READ THE BOOK!"

Continuing with Andrew's SPOILER theme! Also, Andrew, are you doing this for an English assignment? Is this research!? lol. Feel free to cite me in a footnote ;)

The masochist aspect is definitely an interesting thought, Andrew. It never even occurred to me that Marianne was a masochist. I guess I never thought about it because, as you highlight, she never seemed to get pleasure out of the humiliation and abuse that her partners inflicted on her.

To me, the humiliation and abuse was more deep seated in how she viewed herself and what she thought that she deserved. Also, perhaps what she thought that guys wanted. Even when she was with Connell the first time in high school, it wasn't a pure, first love relationship. He did not want others to find out he was sleeping with Marianne because he thought they would judge and ridicule him. Yes, that was very much tied up in Connell's anxiety, but Marianne admits in college that she was humiliated. Not just by the way he treated her but because she let him.

I thought the scene where Connell refuses to hit her was one of the most emotional of the book/show. I admit that my view of it largely comes from the show and the wonderful portrayal of it by Daisy Edgar-Jones. I felt like in that scene Marianne was almost testing Connell. She escalates what she says to him. First she says he can do whatever he wants to her, which excites Connell and he enjoys hearing. Then she asks him to tell her that she belongs to him, which gives Connell pause and he doesn't say yes or no. Then she asks him to hit her, which Connell quickly says no too. I didn't get the sense that she was upset that he didn't hit her or even that her world view was upset, but that he perhaps thought she was weird. Or maybe even finally realized that Connell did in fact love her.

I do think it was a turning point for Marianne, but not sure about the whole "redeeming" thing. I am not usually on board with the concept of men redeeming women, especially when I don't think that Marianne has anything to be redeemed for. I do think in the moment that Connell showed that he truly loved her. Marianne has such a complicated relationship not just with sex but with love. Her family are the people who should love her most in the world, and they are hateful and abusive. I feel like despite her asking for her partners to dominate her, she could never reconcile that in her mind with the actions of someone who truly loves her. I would have to flip back through the book, but I know in the show that Marianne never tells Connell she loves him until after that point.

She is just such a wonderfully complex character! And I am sure that others may argue the exact opposite as me! lol


message 26: by Andrew (new)

Andrew | 16 comments Thank you so much for coming back to me, Nicole R. No, I'm not doing this for research - I did my degree decades ago but I've not been so fired up by a book in years and feel the need to discuss it just I can sort it out my own head.

SPOILER ALERT DO NOT READ ON UNLESS YOU HAVE READ THE BOOK OR SEEN THE SERIES.

As I trawled the internet looking to deepen my understanding of the novel I saw that it is very much like Marmite - you either love it or hate it. I can understand why people hate it as it is very different from most books but the hate appears to come from a, mostly, superficial level. Once you get past that and get past the constructs of the novel as a whole it opens out into this beautiful multilayered multifaceted work of art. It never occurred to me that Marianne was a masochist until I saw someone slating the book and they called her that. However the idea is certainly in Rooney's mind (as much as I can claim to know what is going on in a writers mind). The prototype of these two characters as they appear in the short story "At The Clinic" she is. That is the way Rooney wrote her. In the TV series when Connell and Marianne first have sex he asks her if it hurts and she says something along the lines of "A bit. It's nice" however this is ambiguous as the nice comment might not be referring to the pain but the sex itself. Nothing else from the series jumped out at me at Marianne being masochistic.

I, also, drew the same conclusions as you fron the scene where Marianne asks Connell to hit her. Marianne wants to belong. She always has. She wants to be in a full relationship with Connell but knows that in his inability to commit fully (to anything) she will never be able to have him in the way she wants. However, despite this, she uses sex to get him to a place where she feels she can ask him to commit fully. When he hesitates she takes this as a rejection and so offers him her subjugation. When he refuses this as well she takes it as complete rejection and leaves. It is only when he tells her he loves her and would never let anyone hurt her again after she gets her nose broken does she recognise it as love (as the only form of love Connell is able to give). And so her healing process begins. For me this also explains the ending of the novel in that Marianne knows that he will always be with her on some level despite it never being on the level she wants.

I'd not considered the feminist aspect of the book (yet). Marianne is always the stronger character out of the two even at her weakest. She is more self aware and more aware of those around her. She certainly knows more about Connell than he knows about himself. (At the beginning of the book she calls him shy and he rejects it - then goes on to show how shy he is on a number of occasions). I'm really interested about your comment about men redeeming woman and I'm probably going to spend the next two days contemplating that. My initial knee-jerk reaction would be "how would you feel if the tables were turned and it was Marianne who redeemed Connell?" Would you feel the same way? I ask this because one of the themes of the book is role reversal. In this case it is Connell who redeems Marianne but only because Marianne is the stronger character. She finds redemption in Connell rather than Connell redeeming her.

On a completely different topic have you noticed how the characters are only completely open and honest with each other when they are snacking? I first noticed it at the end when they had ice cream and wondered why. Going back through the book Marianne is eating chocolate spread when she tells Connell she likes him, they are at a coffee shop when she tells him Jamie beats her and they are eating ice cream just prior to that big rejection scene at the end. In Italy, during the meal Niall tells Jamie he is racist.


message 27: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments Andrew wrote: "Thank you so much for coming back to me, Nicole R. No, I'm not doing this for research - I did my degree decades ago but I've not been so fired up by a book in years and feel the need to discuss it just I can sort it out my own head."

I totally agree that I have not been fired up about a book in a long time. I saw this line in your original post and thought perhaps you had an awesome English prof who was basing writing assignments on contemporary fiction!

"I'm really interested in what other people think about this. And can anyone point me in the direction (with examples from the text - (it's an English assignment) if possible) of what I am missing?"


message 28: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments Andrew wrote: "The prototype of these two characters as they appear in the short story "At The Clinic" she is."

Oooo, I have bookmarked this to read later! Given it was written before Normal People, I wonder if Rooney decided to alter that bit of Marianne's personality for the book. I need to check out the article.


message 29: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments Andrew wrote: "My initial knee-jerk reaction would be "how would you feel if the tables were turned and it was Marianne who redeemed Connell?" Would you feel the same way? I ask this because one of the themes of the book is role reversal. In this case it is Connell who redeems Marianne but only because Marianne is the stronger character. She finds redemption in Connell rather than Connell redeeming her.."

A quick answer is that I don't think Marianne redeemed Connell either. I think of redemption as some kind of powerful forgiveness for something mortally wrong you have done. I do not think Marianne or Connell have done anything wrong for which they need to be redeemed. Nor do I think they have the power to redeem the other.

I think, in the simplest, most profound way, they actually just accept each other and help each other grow as people. It is not a smooth path, it has lots of bumps and bruises along the way, but they help each other through some very intense things. But I don't think it is redemption.

Marianne does forgive Connell for the way he treated her in high school. Which, interestingly, is the only time either of them say they are sorry or ask for forgiveness. But, in my mind, that is not the same as redemption.

I don't know, maybe I need to research redemption more! lol. But I think the power of forgiveness and acceptance is more powerful in this story.


message 30: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments Andrew wrote: "On a completely different topic have you noticed how the characters are only completely open and honest with each other when they are snacking?"

I had not noticed! But food is a comfort. Now when I reread I will have to pay attention to that. lol


message 31: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments Andrew, I just read the Marianne and Connell short story "In the Clinic" you pointed out!

Honestly, it doesn't even feel like the same people. It seems like Rooney had the basic idea of these two characters years before writing Normal People, and, in her early attempt, she drew them as fairly cold, manipulative people. The short story takes place after the close of Normal People and does not build upon or reference much that actually happened in Normal People.

It seems like she realized that if she wanted to write a full length novel on these characters that they needed to be more complex. Perhaps just slightly more likable. lol. I am glad she developed them more because I don't think I would have liked a full story about Marianne and Connell as they are portrayed in "In the Clinic"!


message 32: by Andrew (new)

Andrew | 16 comments "I'm really interested in what other people think about this. And can anyone point me in the direction (with examples from the text - (it's an English assignment) if possible) of what I am missing?"

I wrote that line because when I have seen criticism of the book it seems to be based on stuff that isn't actually in the book. The English assignment reference was my (bad) tongue in cheek reference for arguments to be backed up and referenced by the relevant text.


message 33: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments Andrew wrote: ""I'm really interested in what other people think about this. And can anyone point me in the direction (with examples from the text - (it's an English assignment) if possible) of what I am missing?..."

Hahahaha! I thought you were literally doing an English assignment! I almost want to write a full paper on the topic even though I am NOT in college. lol


message 34: by Andrew (new)

Andrew | 16 comments Nicole R wrote: Honestly, it doesn't even feel like the same people. It seems like Rooney had the basic idea of these two characters years before writing Normal People, and, in her early attempt, she drew them as fairly cold, manipulative people. The short story takes place after the close of Normal People and does not build upon or reference much that actually happened in Normal People.


Totally agree with you. I've not sat down with pen and paper to work it out but I'm fairly sure the timelines don't quite fit. In the short story they are both 23. Assuming they left Trinity at 22 and then Connell goes to the USA for a year that would place both of them at 24 before the events in the short story take place. The timeline could be shoehorned so it does fit e.g he has come back home on holiday etc but it doesn't "feel" right.


message 35: by Robin P (new)

Robin P | 1621 comments I liked this book a lot (4 stars and I rarely give 5) but I'm still not sure exactly why. It's largely because of what doesn't happen, any kind of Hollywood romance or ending. People are complicated and messy. My local paper carries the sex column by Dan Savage, and when I read it, I usually find myself thinking, "Really, people do THAT? People enjoy WHAT?" So I don't know that it's helpful to try to put a label on Marianne, or anyone. I listened to it on audio which is in some ways between paper and screen. The dialogue had to be interpreted by the narrator and it seemed very real to me. I think this could be an excellent book for college students or older high school students to discuss and see that they aren't alone in their insecurities. Part of insecurity in youth is thinking everyone else has it all together, or has a better or easier life. Marianne and Connell both envied things about the other person's life.


message 36: by Andrew (last edited May 15, 2020 07:53AM) (new)

Andrew | 16 comments Nicole R wrote: "I had not noticed! But food is a comfort. Now when I reread I will have to pay attention to that. lol"

I admit I'm not completely convinced about my hypothesis because I have not gone through the whole novel to test it's integrity (my theory, not the novel). However superficially it does seem to fit. Food is sustenance and nourishment and life. Conversely sex in the novel represents dishonesty. I can't think of one scene involving sex where the participants are honest with each other.


message 37: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments Robin wrote: "It's largely because of what doesn't happen, any kind of Hollywood romance or ending. People are complicated and messy.."

I love this point. People ARE complicated and messy!

You also mention that "Part of insecurity in youth is thinking everyone else has it all together, or has a better or easier life. Marianne and Connell both envied things about the other person's life." I totally agree with this.

I feel like so many romantic relationships in TV and movies—whether adults or teens/young adults—talk so much about their feelings! They make these grand pronouncements or share every intimate detail of their life with the other person. And that is just not how young/new relationships are. At least not in my experience.

I thought it was so REAL that Connell bottled up his anxiety and it took him a long time to tell Marianne about it. I thought it was so REAL that Marianne only told Connell about her abusive home in bits and pieces over many years. I thought it was REAL that Connell wanted to move in with Marianne but was too proud to ask and that the conversation spiraled in a way that neither of them wanted.

I think that was one of the things I liked as well, Robin. That is wasn't the typical Hollywood romance with a neat, tidy ending. It felt like things I experienced in my younger years. Hell, things I still experience at the start of new relationships even well into my 30s.


message 38: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments Andrew wrote: "Conversely sex in the novel represents dishonesty. I can't think of one scene involving sex where the participants are honest with each other."

While I agree that perhaps they are not always honest about their motivations for the sex or the sex is often tainted by secrets and misgivings, I think the emotions between them are always honest. So, the honesty of that was there in that form. At least that is how it felt to me. With the exception to that perhaps being when Marianne asked Connell to hit her, but even then, that was honest. And Connell's response was honest.

As far as motivations behind the sex being honest, that is definitely more rare for them. I think the sex they have when they first get back together in college is pretty honest. The first time after Marianne gets drunk at the party and especially the sex they have after Peggy offers them a threesome and Connell freaks out a bit at the idea of that. That felt pretty real and honest to me and not motivated by something or done while hiding anything. And they both say later in the book that it was perhaps the only time in their lives they have been truly happy.

Of course, that happy period did not last super long, it started falling apart when Marianne when home for the family dinner and then fell apart even more when Connell lost his job. But for a brief moment, I think things between them were good.


message 39: by Andrew (new)

Andrew | 16 comments Nicole R wrote: "A quick answer is that I don't think Marianne redeemed Connell either. I think of redemption as some kind of powerful forgiveness for something mortally wrong you have done. I do not think Marianne or Connell have done anything wrong for which they need to be redeemed. Nor do I think they have the power to redeem the other.

I think, in the simplest, most profound way, they actually just accept each other and help each other grow as people. It is not a smooth path, it has lots of bumps and bruises along the way, but they help each other through some very intense things. But I don't think it is redemption.

Marianne does forgive Connell for the way he treated her in high school. Which, interestingly, is the only time either of them say they are sorry or ask for forgiveness. But, in my mind, that is not the same as redemption.

I don't know, maybe I need to research redemption more! lol. But I think the power of forgiveness and acceptance is more powerful in this story."


Fair point. I don't necessarily disagree with you, and critics have argued that there is no redemption. So you may be right. (Can you feel a "but" coming on....)

However, using dictionary.com as a basis for definition of redemption (I know, I know, semantics)
Redemption:
1. an act of redeeming or atoning for a fault or mistake, or the state of being redeemed.
2. deliverance; rescue.
3. Theology. deliverance from sin; salvation.
atonement for guilt.
4. repurchase, as of something sold.
5. paying off, as of a mortgage, bond, or note.

The characters in the novel certainly fit criteria #2 - Marianne rescues Connell from his depression after the suicide of Rob (I thought I'd read in the novel that Connell used the word redemption in this particular instance but he doesn't - I checked); Connell rescues Marianne from her masochistic relationships by showing her she has more worth - although she had already started down that path when she voluntarily left Lukas, and Connell quite literally rescues her from Alan.
They both offer salvation to the other on various levels, numerous times.

Going back to our previous discourse on feminism, I hadn't really paid much attention to is as I came to the novel after watching the TV series and just assumed it would be a feminist novel - not in a stereotypical, burn your bra, I hate men way - but a novel that was empowered by empowering women. Marianne always gives to Connell before he gives back to her. She always does for him before he does for her, which is why I said Marianne is always the stronger character.

I'm going to have to read the novel again with the assumption there is no redemption and see if I come to same conclusion.

In a way, I'm glad we draw different conclusions on this as it deepens my understanding of the novel. I just hope that I have not upset or irritated you. It's good to disagree!


message 40: by Andrew (new)

Andrew | 16 comments Nicole R wrote: "While I agree that perhaps they are not always honest about their motivations for the sex or the sex is often tainted by secrets and misgivings, I think the emotions between them are always honest. So, the honesty of that was there in that form. At least that is how it felt to me. With the exception to that perhaps being when Marianne asked Connell to hit her, but even then, that was honest. And Connell's response was honest.

As far as motivations behind the sex being honest, that is definitely more rare for them. I think the sex they have when they first get back together in college is pretty honest. The first time after Marianne gets drunk at the party and especially the sex they have after Peggy offers them a threesome and Connell freaks out a bit at the idea of that. That felt pretty real and honest to me and not motivated by something or done while hiding anything. And they both say later in the book that it was perhaps the only time in their lives they have been truly happy.

Of course, that happy period did not last super long, it started falling apart when Marianne when home for the family dinner and then fell apart even more when Connell lost his job. But for a brief moment, I think things between them were good"


Oh wow, thanks for that. I'd not considered those points. Great stuff.


message 41: by Andrew (new)

Andrew | 16 comments Nicole R wrote: "Hahahaha! I thought you were literally doing an English assignment! I almost want to write a full paper on the topic even though I am NOT in college. "

I feel exactly the same way!


message 42: by Andrew (last edited May 15, 2020 09:02AM) (new)

Andrew | 16 comments Robin wrote: "So I don't know that it's helpful to try to put a label on Marianne, or anyone. I listened to it on audio which is in some ways between paper and screen. "

Robin, I agree with you labels are not particularly helpful. Was the audiobook any good? I would love to sit around a table at university and navel gaze this novel. There is just so much going on. I would feel a bit sorry for those that hate it though.


message 43: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments Andrew wrote: "In a way, I'm glad we draw different conclusions on this as it deepens my understanding of the novel. I just hope that I have not upset or irritated you. It's good to disagree!"

You have absolutely not upset or irritated me! You make excellent points. I do not know that I personally find them persuasive, but I certainly understand your point of view. And I love nothing more than a good, well reasoned and supported discussion of conflicting view points and perspectives.

I greatly enjoy discussing this book and am glad that you found this thread to add to the conversation! You have definitely thought a lot about the book and the themes, and we can certainly come to different conclusions. Especially when our conclusions are not really that different. ;) A bit of semantics.

Marianne always gives to Connell before he gives back to her. She always does for him before he does for her, which is why I said Marianne is always the stronger character.

Hmmmm, this is an interesting observation. I need to think about this when I reread the book. The one way that Connell is always there for Marianne is to protect her from physical harm. He is there when she is assaulted at the nightclub as a teen, begs her to get away from the harm Jamie inflicts, rushes to her protection when she and Jamie fight in Italy, sends supportive emails when she is in Norway even though he doesn't know exactly what is going on, and (while she does ask for his assistance) stands up to her abusive brother for her.

I would have to look at how their interactions actually start, because I completely agree that Marianne is more vocal in her support of Connell, but Connell gives in more subtle, less vocal ways.

I had an interesting convo with a friend based on an article she read some time ago about having an "ask" personality versus an "assume" personality. An ask person has no qualms asking for what they want and are prepared to hear no for an answer. An assume person does not like to ask for what they want because they have a fear of being told no so they hint at it until the other person offers. (We actually first discussed this article in relation to dynamics within our friend group, but she brought it up again in relation to Normal People.)

I think Marianne is an ask person for sure. She is the more vocally strong character because she asks for what she wants even when the answer may be no. And when the answer is no, she does not really get her feathers ruffled. I think the exception to this is when she doesn't mention to Connell that she wants to go to the debs with him, but that is also tied up in her feelings of inadequacy and secrecy of the relationship a bit more than other things. I guess she is also upset when Connell says he will not hit her, but that scene is just so complex with so many layers I think it goes beyond Connell just saying no.

I think Connell is an assume person. With perhaps the exception for him being the very first time he asks Marianne to come over to his house to have sex, but then he pretty much knew Marianne was not going to say no. This is the root of their break up in college when he didn't ask to move in with her, I think he was afraid she might say no mixed with feelings about class and money. Even at the end when they are talking about Connell going to NYC he doesn't actually ask Marianne to come with him. He says that he can't go without her but doesn't push it when she doesn't take the bait and offer to come with him. (In the show he actually asks her, which I think is a nice little change that shows a bit more growth on his part.)

You have definitely given me something to think about more though as I reread this book! Which, I should just stop fooling myself, will likely be this weekend even though I literally just finished it less than a week ago. LOL.


message 44: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments Andrew, also, have you read Rooney’s other novel, Conversations With Friends?


message 45: by Andrew (new)

Andrew | 16 comments Nicole R wrote: "I had an interesting convo with a friend based on an article she read some time ago about having an "ask" personality versus an "assume" personality."

Thank you for that insight. I have not heard that before. It will be interesting to read the book again with that insight. Can't believe you are waiting until the weekend (Ok, I know that's tomorrow) I finished the book then turned back to the first page straight away. Lol. I admit I am a little bit in love with Marianne so maybe I am too hard on Connell.


message 46: by Nicole R (last edited May 15, 2020 09:27AM) (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments Andrew wrote: "Can't believe you are waiting until the weekend (Ok, I know that's tomorrow) I finished the book then turned back to the first page straight away. Lol. I admit I am a little bit in love with Marianne so maybe I am too hard on Connell."

Lol! I am actually reading another book that I am enjoying, which I hope to finish up before restarting Normal People.

I love both Marianne and Connell for different reasons, but I whole-heartedly admit that the actor that plays Connell absolutely blew me away. So, in that manner, perhaps I am slightly more pro-Connell. lol. Actually, I think I am just pro THEM, together. I am a bit of a romantic so I actually see a future for these characters where they end up together. You know, after another 8-10 years of friendship/intermittent dating. lol

I think when I reread I want to watch the TV episodes at the same time. The show tracks the book so closely that I could easily read a chunk of the book, watch an episode, read a chunk of the book, etc.


message 47: by Andrew (new)

Andrew | 16 comments Nicole R wrote: "Andrew, also, have you read Rooney’s other novel, Conversations With Friends?"

No. I have avoided it on purpose because I have so much going on in my head with this one. I know a Marianne pops up in that one too in a very minor role but from what other people have said it is not the same character. Or is it? Have you read it? What did you think of it? Which book did you enjoy most?


message 48: by Nicole R (new)

Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7759 comments Andrew wrote: "No. I have avoided it on purpose because I have so much going on in my head with this one. I know a Marianne pops up in that one too in a very minor role but from what other people have said it is not the same character. Or is it? Have you read it? What did you think of it? Which book did you enjoy most?"

I have not read it but I ordered it from my local bookstore. Not surprisingly, it is backordered. So I have a little bit of a wait before it will arrive.

I have heard there is a Marianne in CWF but it seems like it is not the same character?

Susie, if you are still following this thread, do you have an answer to this?


message 49: by Andrew (new)

Andrew | 16 comments Nicole R wrote: "I think when I reread I want to watch the TV episodes at the same time. The show tracks the book so closely that I could easily read a chunk of the book, watch an episode, read a chunk of the book, etc"

That's exactly what I did. I started with the show (which blew me away), watched the first few episodes then started the book. I purposefully watched the ending of the show before reading the ending of the novel as the very subtle differences are disconcerting. For instances when Connell asks Marianne if her father ever hit her she says yes in the book but no in the show. That abuse, or lack of it, is a major character motivator and I'm not sure how I feel about it being changed. It was obviously changed for a reason but I can't figure out why. To be honest I've not got around to figuring out why they changed some things in the show when they stuck so closely to the book. Having said that I much prefer the ending in the show even though it is basically the same it is split over two scenes that are separated and that works much better for me. I also prefer how Connell's mother tells him he is the best thing in her life. It has more impact in the show for reasons I have not yet identified.


message 50: by Andrew (new)

Andrew | 16 comments I also binged watched the last three episodes on my own with a box of tissues handy as I thought I would bawl my eyes out. I think Rooney went easy on us with that one. It was sad but I expected being a wreck.

The effect, in the end has been more insidious. I can't get the damn thing out of my head. Everytime I think about it (which is pretty much all the time) I get new insights into their characters and motivations.


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