Normal People is the first book that has left me at a loss for words, not because I love or hate it, but because I am unable to articulate what I feel about it. I don’t know what to make of it. On one level, I recognise the Sally Rooney’s intention in trying to explore the “mundane” lives of normal people. The portrait of Connell, Marianne and their troubled, and at times, tortured relationship certainly fit that billing.
One thing I can’t deny is the feeling of authenticity in the story. Marianne, Connell, and the cast of characters that circle them feel “real” for lack of a better phrase. If someone told me this was based on a true story, I wouldn’t be surprised. In watching some interviews with Sally Rooney, I couldn’t help but notice how much she looked like what I imagined Marianne to look like. I investigated further and discovered that she went to Trinity College in Dublin on Scholarship like Marianne. The novel also ends when the characters are in their mid-20s which is probably when Rooney was writing it. Whether it is autobiographical in nature is irrelevant of course, but it nevertheless seeps through in the writing.
As well-written and engaging the writing is in this book, I couldn’t bring myself to care about Marianne or Connell. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I disliked them, but I was mostly indifferent to their relationship. If I went to school or university with them, I would say hello, but wouldn’t make the effort to start a conversation or anything like that.
I didn’t love it, but nor did I hate it. I found some of the writing exquisite, but crucially didn’t feel invested in either Marianne or Connell – at least not in that way I expected to be.