Published by Faber & Faber in 2018, Rooney’s Normal People has been nominated for a whole host of awards including the 2018 Man Booker Prize, was named Waterstones’ Book of the Year and has been longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Normal People centres on two main characters, Marianne and Connell. Marianne is the young, affluent, intellectual wallflower; Connell is the boy everyone likes, shadowed by his family’s reputation and poverty. Unlikely friends, and later lovers, their small town beginnings in rural Ireland are swiftly eclipsed by the heady world of student Dublin. Gradually their intense, mismatched love becomes a battleground of power, class, and the falsehoods they choose to believe. Described as a tale of deceptive simplicity, Normal People is the accessible narrative of two seemingly mismatched young people who share a profound, inescapable understanding. Beyond that however is something properly universal, a study of how one person can forever shape and impact another. Marianne and Connell emerge almost shockingly real and deeply vulnerable in their different ways.
Called a ‘love story in the truest sense, by which I mean a novel intimately concerned with the things two people can do to each other, and how much we each might want to hurt or be hurt’ by Helen Charman for The White Review, Rooney’s novel is, in my opinion, worthy of the lavish praise being heaped upon it. Rooney’s exploration of young love across social classes is distinguished by its use of unreliable or problematic narrators – a trait rarely dealt with so well in modern literature. Both Marianne and Connell are (at times frustratingly) flawed but it is this which brings a level of realism to the novel and endears them to the readers. As a heroine, Marianne unnerves those around her, particularly Connell, as she remains defiantly true to herself. Her open desire to be dominated sexually unsettlingly parallels the physical and emotional abuse she faces at home. Indeed, once Marianne manages to escape the claustrophobic atmosphere of her family home she seeks out abusive relationships choosing these men over the more sensitive Connell. Yet despite her masochistic propensity, Marianne is a witty and warm character whose frank emotions and sexuality illustrate the many ways in which women and men fail to understand one another.
Rooney’s refusal to end her novel with any sense of closure or resolution is fitting of the sentiment of the novel. Like the rest of Normal People, the ending leaves you frustrated that Marianne and Connell don’t – or can’t – realise what you already do: that they belong together. I would absolutely recommend this ‘will-they-won’t-they coming-of-age romance’ and can’t wait to see what Rooney has in store for us next.