Normal People by Sally Rooney

Marianne answers the door when Connell rings the bell.

– Opening sentence

Sometimes you read a book that holds you in a death grip and doesn’t let you go. This was one of those books.

From what I’ve read in other reviews, Normal People is quite polarising with some readers finding themselves more affected than others. With me, Normal People got completely under my skin. At some points, I was so affected that I have to have long breaks between chapters.

I’m not sure exactly what it was. Yes, there are some dark sections (triggering for some), but they are not necessarily explored in all their grimy details. In fact, it’s probably what is left unsaid which is the most concerning – and there is a lot that is unsaid between the characters in this book. Never before have I willed two characters to talk to each other more openly.

Marianne and Connell, the two central characters, share an infuriating inability to communicate. This lack of communication is the underlying cause for their unstable and, in many ways, toxic relationship. And yet, I couldn’t stop rooting for them. The magnetism of their relationship seemed very real; it some ways it reminded me of my own relationship with my SO. We were on/off at the beginning but, for reasons unknown (fate?), we were always drawn back to each other.

However, Marianne and Connell experience more trauma and abuse than most. Marianne especially suffers at the hands of her mother and brother, and later by some unsavoury ‘boyfriends’. Connell’s suffering is more subtle at the beginning, but there are some clear red flags that arise out of his relationship with his own mother (like calling her by her first name, instead of ‘Mum’). Inevitably, this leads to an unbalanced relationship where they are both, actively and subconsciously, seeking comfort whilst simultaneously failing to comfort each other.

I honestly still don’t know whether I actually enjoyed this book or not. Undoubtedly, Rooney is an extremely talented writer. Her characters are flawed and this is what makes them so relatable and realistic – the resulting experience feels less like reading and more like eavesdropping. But it wasn’t always easy, or comfortable, for me. I had to take periodic breaks for a few days at a time because I was filled with such a strong sense of unease, dread and frustration both with – and for – Marianne and Connell.

The ending did nothing to soothe those feelings. Yes, the book ends but the story is very much left incomplete, and that lack of certainty means I can’t get full closure – I feel like I’m not yet able to leave it on my bookshelf and move onto something else. Although I’m certainly not in a rush to read it again any time soon…

4 Stars (4 / 5)

You know that.

– Final sentence

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