Book Review – Normal People by Sally Rooney

Connell wished he knew how other people conducted their private lives, so that he could copy from example.

Connell is the popular guy at school and he secretly begins a relationship with Marianne, the outcast. I absolutely hate this secrecy, but it’s the driving force of the book. Their relationship is both solid and hanging by a thin thread. At any moment they can break apart if they show any sign of insecurity, and they are both very insecure. The second one of them show it, the other follows suit and they implode. Over and over again.

We follow their relationship through years of school and university and along the way I started getting frustrated and annoyed. Why is this so difficult? Why can’t they just.. arghhh! I don’t even know. This frustration sets in about halfway through, but at that point I’m already invested and I need to see where this is going. I think it was lucky that I had several hours of uninterrupted travel time to devote otherwise I might have jumped ship. I’m glad I didn’t though because the ending was actually perfect for this story, and a perfect ending is rare.

I like the title “normal people” because they often refer to what is “normal” and since there really isn’t a blueprint of how you should live, react or behave we could also argue that their actions are normal for them. Who is to say what is normal? There’s a simple sentence as they meet again in university that goes “he likes knowing how to act around her”. I love this. This familiarity is so comforting I think, and we are usually drawn to it, even though we know that our comfort zone not always is what is best for us.

In the end I’m not even sure I wanted them to be together, because whenever they were I hated it. For me personally, the comfort lies in the fact that the story goes on regardless. There are some trigger warnings here, bullying, assault, depression, suicide, and sexual assault. But if you can, find hope in that whatever happens, the story goes on, life goes on, and that is completely normal. We can fall apart, but we can also find a way to move on. There is always a way.

There is now also a show available on hulu (or NRK in Norway) that is very loyal to the book. There were certain element’s I found easier to see in the show than in the book, and vice versa. But this just made both experiences unique and equally entertaining. (Which, let’s be honest, isn’t always the case because the book is usually a lot better!)