Review: ‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney

By Niamh Moody

In anticipation of the new BBC adaptation of Rooney’s novel, which is soon to be released, Indigo Books asked Niamh to review the novel and tell us what she may like to see in the screen adaptation.

Normal People is the second of Sally Rooney’s novels set around student life in tenebrous Dublin. Connell and Marianne are first introduced in the small town of Carricklea in West Ireland.

At first the interaction of these two characters is nothing short of mundane. Connell’s mother works for Marianne’s mother and despite speaking to each other when Connell comes to pick up his mother, there is minimal interaction between the two beyond this. Despite this apparent and obvious difference between class which is at first acknowledged, this soon dissipates as you move throughout the story.

A love affair transpires between the two, but as they get older and begin to deal with the realities of life they drift apart through no fault of their own. The small town they grow up in seem to confine the pair to assumptions made about them that aren’t necessarily true. Marianne keeps to herself and is seen to be strange and elusive. Rooney uses this to paint a young woman who is not the most social, yet despite this holds strong opinions about the world.

In contrast, Connell is a highly impressionable young man who is seen to be so self-conscious of his actions in fear of being judged by others. The portrayal of these characters is so seamlessly representative of the lives of so many people that I feel we all resonate with aspects of both Connell and Marianne. 

At Trinity College, Dublin where the majority of the book is set, Marianne gets in contact with Connell. This creates a whole new blossoming dynamic away from the constraints of small town life. The pair navigate their way through young love as well as the many challenges that university life carries with it.  What I find enrapturing about Rooney’s writing is that she does not produce characters or settings that are particularly exciting. Instead, she creates characters with flaws and struggles.

The simple act of writing about ‘normal people’ is that the reader is able to truly connect with story

Rooney does not over-romanticise love, she displays it in its true raw form. A love that is complicated and entangled in friendship, a love that shows how much people are willing to forgive and most importantly a love that manifests itself in everyday acts of life. The simple act of writing about ‘normal people’ is that the reader is able to truly connect with story, making a piece of work that would otherwise be considered ordinary, rather extraordinary.  

Normal People is a story of two people who take time to find their way, who make mistakes and whose questionable choices in men and friends teach them lifelong lessons. The recently released trailer by the BBC has sparked much interest in the media. A 50 second clip has expertly portrayed the underlying depths of remorse and forgiveness alongside the relatable story of young love, capturing the attention of the nation. My excitement for this series knows no bounds.

My excitement for this series knows no bounds

A word that I would associate with Normal People with is serendipity – the occurrence of events by chance that produce a happy ending. The characters story resembles the shape of a diamond. At first, they are tied together, and as they drift apart on their different paths they are shaped individually by their experiences. When the time comes for the them to meet again, much like a diamond, the align perfectly and once again play important roles in each other’s lives. 

I hope that the director of the series, Lenny Abrahamson, is able to represent Connell and Marianne as complex characters with different layers to their personalities, much as how Rooney wrote them. What I like most about the characters is that they have a depth to them that very rarely comes across in other books I have read.

If you haven’t already, I suggest you make time to read the book before the series comes out – and it you don’t want to buy a new book, you are more than welcome to borrow mine!

Photograph: Trinity College, Dublin by Jonas Stolle via Unsplash

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