NORMAL PEOPLE by Sally Rooney
Faber & Faber (UK)
Engrossing, complex, and emotionally honest, Normal People is an understated powerhouse of a novel. As this book ends up being so much more than the sum of its parts it’s particularly difficult to summarize, but basically, it’s a sort-of-love-story about Connell and Marianne, two young people growing up in small town Ireland together, who both move to Dublin for university in 2011.
There isn’t much going on in this book aside from Connell and Marianne’s ‘will they/won’t they’ relationship, but I wouldn’t describe this as a romance novel as much as a novel about being human. Sally Rooney highlights with razor-sharp precision the oddities and intricacies that complicate interpersonal interactions, even between two people who love one another. This book is about miscommunication, but not miscommunication as a plot device; miscommunication as an intrinsic part of the human experience, naturally calling into question the possibility of truly knowing another person. Connell and Marianne’s inability to open up to one another is so much bigger than these two individual characters; it’s about gender roles and socioeconomic differences and power dynamics and social status and preconceived notions and projections and misinterpretations, and Rooney examines it all minutely through the lens of this one ill-fated sort-of-couple. She also has the uncanny ability to cut to the emotional core of a scene without sensationalizing, and I think that’s what strikes me as the most accomplished element of this novel.
I think this book is inevitably going to be underestimated by some because of its premise, and because of all the hyperbolic claims that Rooney is the definitive voice of her generation. But it’s a deceptively clever book; it’s perceptive where it could easily be vapid, it’s clear-eyed where it could be melodramatic, and it has more intellectual and emotional depth than anything else I’ve read recently. A bit of an unconventional choice for the Booker longlist, but it fully earned its spot in my opinion, and I’d love to see it shortlisted.
More of my Man Booker 2018 reviews: