Normal People by Sally Rooney | Book Review

★★★★☆
June 18th – 19th

I said in my review of The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren that I was trying to read outside my comfort zone. This book definitely falls into that category. Sally Rooney’s second novel is strange and intimate, following Connell and Marianne as their relationship changes in late high school, through college.

The first thing to note about this book is the way it’s written. There’s no quotation marks bringing the dialogue into the forefront and dragging your attention away from the description. I found I had to read this book slower than I usually do to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Conversations in real life are like that: if you aren’t paying attention, you’ll miss what someone says. This book perfectly described that feeling without saying it.

I found the first half of this book enormously frustrating. I continuously felt like all of the misunderstandings could be avoided if only the characters spoke to each other, and really spoke to each other. Connell and Marianne would fall into this dance of dialogue, both avoiding the topic at hand and going around in circles until someone said something they didn’t mean, or someone meant something they didn’t say. One would leave, the other would stay, and as the reader I’m left wondering who I should be hoping will change in this relationship. The answer is both of them.

As the characters get older, make mistakes, and move past them, I found myself liking them more. They do things that people will do. They’re frustrated and they agonize over decisions and implications, but only sometimes. They do things without thinking, like normal people.

This book is a snapshot into the lives of two teenagers growing up and growing together. There are things that were hard to read, like Marianne’s family life and how she dealt with it through her relationships. But there are other things that are refreshing, like Connell’s anxiety and depression, and how it was portrayed. So often I see these things as a whirlpool, or a spiral, or a tornado of being overwhelmed. But in this instance, Connell was simply existing, and sometimes that wasn’t enough. It was refreshing to see this take on anxiety, and see him get help and move past it. It was also refreshing to see that therapy wasn’t a catch-all place for him that solved all of his problems. It was shown as a process, and though I wished that more of this novel took place in the places where he was struggling, I was glad to see him make it out.

This book is more of a character study than a novel. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before. I may dip into Sally Rooney’s other work at some point, but I need to be in the mood for something that can take my focus and weigh it down for a little bit.

-Siobhan

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