“Fresh and accessible . . . There is so much to say about Rooney’s fiction—in my experience, when people who’ve read her meet they tend to peel off into corners to talk.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times
At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school football team, while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers—one they are determined to conceal.
A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years at university, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. And as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.
Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love, and the complex entanglements of family and friendship.
Praise for Normal People
“I went into a tunnel with this book and didn’t want to come out. Absolutely engrossing and surprisingly heartbreaking with more depth, subtlety, and insight than any one novel deserves.”—Stephanie Danler, author of Sweetbitter
“Arguably the buzziest novel of the season, Sally Rooney’s elegant sophomore effort . . . is a worthy successor to Conversations with Friends. Here, again, she unflinchingly explores class dynamics and young love with wit and nuance.”—The Wall Street Journal, “12 Best Books of Spring”
“[Rooney] has been hailed as the first great millennial novelist for her stories of love and late capitalism. . . . [She writes] some of the best dialogue I’ve read.”—The New Yorker
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Marianne answers the door when Connell rings the bell. She’s still wearing her school uniform, but she’s taken off the sweater, so it’s just the blouse and skirt, and she has no shoes on, only tights.
Oh, hey, he says.
Come on in.
She turns and walks down the hall. He follows her, closing the door behind him. Down a few steps in the kitchen, his mother Lorraine is peeling off a pair of rubber gloves. Marianne hops onto the countertop and picks up an open jar of chocolate spread, in which she has left a teaspoon.
Marianne was telling me you got your mock results today, Lorraine says.
We got English back, he says. They come back separately. Do you want to head on?
Lorraine folds the rubber gloves up neatly and replaces them below the sink. Then she starts unclipping her hair. To Connell this seems like something she could accomplish in the car.
And I hear you did very well, she says.
He was top of the class, says Marianne.
Right, Connell says. Marianne did pretty good too. Can we go?
Lorraine pauses in the untying of her apron.
I didn’t realize we were in a rush, she says.
He puts his hands in his pockets and suppresses an irritable sigh, but suppresses it with an audible intake of breath, so that it still sounds like a sigh.
I just have to pop up and take a load out of the dryer, says Lorraine. And then we’ll be off. Okay?
He says nothing, merely hanging his head while Lorraine leaves the room.
Do you want some of this? Marianne says.
She’s holding out the jar of chocolate spread. He presses his hands down slightly further into his pockets, as if trying to store his entire body in his pockets all at once.
No, thanks, he says.
Did you get your French results today?
He puts his back against the fridge and watches her lick the spoon. In school he and Marianne affect not to know each other. People know that Marianne lives in the white mansion with the driveway and that Connell’s mother is a cleaner, but no one knows of the special relationship between these facts.
I got an A1, he says. What did you get in German?
An A1, she says. Are you bragging?
You’re going to get six hundred, are you?
She shrugs. You probably will, she says.
Well, you’re smarter than me.
Don’t feel bad. I’m smarter than everyone.
Marianne is grinning now. She exercises an open contempt for people in school. She has no friends and spends her lunchtimes alone reading novels. A lot of people really hate her. Her father died when she was thirteen and Connell has heard she has a mental illness now or something. It’s true she is the smartest person in school. He dreads being left alone with her like this, but he also finds himself fantasizing about things he could say to impress her.
You’re not top of the class in English, he points out.
She licks her teeth, unconcerned.
Maybe you should give me grinds, Connell, she says.
He feels his ears get hot. She’s probably just being glib and not suggestive, but if she is being suggestive it’s only to degrade him by association, since she is considered an object of disgust. She wears ugly thick-soled flat shoes and doesn’t put makeup on her face. People have said she doesn’t shave her legs or anything. Connell once heard that she spilled chocolate ice cream on herself in the school lunchroom, and she went to the girls’ bathrooms and took her blouse off to wash it in the sink. That’s a popular story about her, everyone has heard it. If she wanted, she could make a big show of saying hello to Connell in school. See you this afternoon, she could say, in front of everyone. Undoubtedly it would put him in an awkward position, which is the kind of thing she usually seems to enjoy. But she has never done it.
What were you talking to Miss Neary about today? says Marianne.
Oh. Nothing. I don’t know. Exams.
Marianne twists the spoon around inside the jar.
Does she fancy you or something? Marianne says.
Connell watches her moving the spoon. His ears still feel very hot.
Why do you say that? he says.
God, you’re not having an affair with her, are you?
Obviously not. Do you think it’s funny joking about that?
Sorry, says Marianne.
She has a focused expression, like she’s looking through his eyes into the back of his head.
You’re right, it’s not funny, she says. I’m sorry.
He nods, looks around the room for a bit, digs the toe of his shoe into a groove between the tiles.
Sometimes I feel like she does act kind of weird around me, he says. But I wouldn’t say that to people or anything.
Even in class I think she’s very flirtatious toward you.
Do you really think that?
Marianne nods. He rubs at his neck. Miss Neary teaches Economics. His supposed feelings for her are widely discussed in school. Some people are even saying that he tried to add her on Facebook, which he didn’t and would never do. Actually he doesn’t do or say anything to her, he just sits there quietly while she does and says things to him. She keeps him back after class sometimes to talk about his life direction, and once she actually touched the knot of his school tie. He can’t tell people about the way she acts because they’ll think he’s trying to brag about it. In class he feels too embarrassed and annoyed to concentrate on the lesson, he just sits there staring at the textbook until the bar graphs start to blur.
People are always going on at me that I fancy her or whatever, he says. But I actually don’t, at all. I mean, you don’t think I’m playing into it when she acts like that, do you?
Not that I’ve seen.
He wipes his palms down on his school shirt unthinkingly. Everyone is so convinced of his attraction to Miss Neary that sometimes he starts to doubt his own instincts about it. What if, at some level above or below his own perception, he does actually desire her? He doesn’t even really know what desire is supposed to feel like. Any time he has had sex in real life, he has found it so stressful as to be largely unpleasant, leading him to suspect that there’s something wrong with him, that he’s unable to be intimate with women, that he’s somehow developmentally impaired. He lies there afterward and thinks: I hated that so much that I feel sick. Is that just the way he is? Is the nausea he feels when Miss Neary leans over his desk actually his way of experiencing a sexual thrill? How would he know?
I could go to Mr. Lyons for you if you want, says Marianne. I won’t say you told me anything, I’ll just say I noticed it myself.
Jesus, no. Definitely not. Don’t say anything about it to anyone, okay?
Okay, all right.
He looks at her to confirm she’s being serious, and then nods.
It’s not your fault she acts like that with you, says Marianne. You’re not doing anything wrong.
Quietly he says: Why does everyone else think I fancy her, then?
Maybe because you blush a lot when she talks to you. But you know, you blush at everything, you just have that complexion.
He gives a short, unhappy laugh. Thanks, he says.
Well, you do.
Yeah, I’m aware.
You’re blushing now actually, says Marianne.
He closes his eyes, pushes his tongue against the roof of his mouth. He can hear Marianne laughing.
Why do you have to be so harsh on people? he says.
I’m not being harsh. I don’t care if you’re blushing, I won’t tell anyone.
Just because you won’t tell people doesn’t mean you can say whatever you want.
Okay, she says. Sorry.
He turns and looks out the window at the garden. Really the garden is more like “grounds.” It includes a tennis court and a large stone statue in the shape of a woman. He looks out at the “grounds” and moves his face close to the cool breath of the glass. When people tell that story about Marianne washing her blouse in the sink, they act like it’s just funny, but Connell thinks the real purpose of the story is something else. Marianne has never been with anyone in school, no one has ever seen her undressed, no one even knows if she likes boys or girls, she won’t tell anyone. People resent that about her, and Connell thinks that’s why they tell the story, as a way of gawking at something they’re not allowed to see.
I don’t want to get into a fight with you, she says.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Author loves the sound of words; the story unwinds like a ball of yarn; mature observations; a bit repetitious.
Sometimes, you just need to read a book with a friend in order to truly appreciate its beauty of writing and sadness in its telling. Jan and I had so much to say and speak about in this story that it made us both realize what a wonderful book this was. Any book that makes for a road traveled through darkness and despair can certainly be one that encourages deep and meaningful thoughts and words. Normal People was just such a book. In this age of instant communication, texts, email, social media, we do think that we make instant connections, that people understand us, they get us and we get them. However, what is often left unsaid, contained within our mind, might just be the link to our happiness. For the two main protagonists in this book, their communication with one another never really happens for one is ever so afraid to open up herself and the other is afraid of the social strata he thinks he just can never attain. Marianne, is a troubled young woman, a pariah in high school, an abused child who retreats into her shell and allows no one to invade her inner self. She knows Connell, a fellow student, the son of a woman who is a maid to her family so when they strike up a relationship initially sexual in nature, but then it develops into something more. Their relationship is kept ever so secret, and they avoid each other so awkwardly in social situations that it is painful to read of their struggles. Connell is attracted to Marianne. He is the handsome, out going, brilliant student who looks like, on the surface, to have it all. But, he too, harbors major insecurities and when both Marianne and Connell head off to Trinity College, those deep devils embedded in both their psyches begin to emerge in force. They both feel unworthy, Marianne feels she should be abused for that is what she deserves,“There’s always been something inside her that men have wanted to dominate, and their desire for domination can look so much like attraction, even love.” while Connell feels that he just does not belong, lacking the thing he thinks makes the world go round.“That's money, the substance that makes the world real. There's something so corrupt and sexy about it” They are both intellectually brilliant, but in matters of the heart and living, they are ever so lacking. This is such a sad tale, for these two people thrown together through their young lives, love and care for one another. Problem is one is ever so afraid to let it be known because she feels she deserves abuse, while the other can't seem to feel he is worthy of anything, especially love. As they grow into young adults their roles reverse as Marianne becomes what Connell once was and Connell becomes what Marianne was. It's a story of words unspoken, of thoughts not expressed, of two lives that should have melded together and yet are worlds apart. Neither one of them feels worthy of love, worthy of holding a place on this earth, and the tragedy of this story is that they might never find out that they are destined to be with one another. Sally Rooney has written a tale of heartbreak and hopelessness. She takes us deep inside her characters, allowing the reader to truly see their melancholy and misery. In this world of people portraying their lives so openly on social media platforms is this story really the way many people are, insecure, forlorn, and in misery? Or is it that these two characters are so psychologically broken that their chances for happiness will never happen and they
This book reminds me of the movie Like Crazy that came out in 2011. I wasn't sure what I expected when I requested this book, but this wasn't it. The book follows a guy and a girl who went to high school together, and are frequently on and off throughout college (and maybe their lives?). The writing was beautiful. I loved the descriptions and the way the author was able to really build the scene in your head. It took a while getting used to no quotation marks around the dialogue, though. The story tends to be repetitive with the constant back and forth of the main characters getting together then splitting up. I think there's several things the author was trying to get across in writing this book. And that is, bad relationships just don't work (obviously). But no matter how much time and effort and patience, sometimes people just aren't meant to be together. It's heartbreaking and depressing, but also relevant. There's always that one person people really want to be with, but the circumstances just aren't right, and life keeps getting in the way.
“He senses a certain receptivity in her expression, like she’s gathering information about his feelings, something they have learned to do to each other over a long time, like speaking a private language.” Normal People follows Marianne and Connell, two millennials from a small town in Ireland as they make their way through adolescence and into early adulthood. Marianne, although her family is one of the wealthiest in town, is somewhat of a social outcast and doesn’t care about the opinion of others. Connell on the other hand, who comes from a working class family (his mother cleans Marianne’s family home), is confident, popular and a star on the school football team. Connell and Marianne begin a relationship in their last year of school prior to university. Self conscious and afraid that his friends will judge him for being with her, Connell insists that he and Marianne keep their relationship a secret. Later that year, Connell and Marianne leave Sligo to attend Trinity College. Here, the roles have reversed and Marianne is now in her element - she is now the popular one and Connell finds himself struggling to fit into life at university. As we continue to follow Marianne and Connell’s on-again off-again relationship, we witness the cause and effect of social classes, major life events, and how other characters’ actions impact the protagonists themselves. I devoured this book...I finished it in one sitting because I just couldn’t bear to put it down. Rooney expertly portrays the emotions of her characters and I felt deeply connected to Marianne and Connell throughout the novel. These two characters felt so raw and real, yet flawed. Marianne and Connell’s relationship is what brings the real power to this story. This novel explores the profound impact that one person can have on another and the ways in which lives can change course forever. Overall, I highly recommend this novel and look forward to reading more from Sally Rooney in the future.
This book was not for me. I enjoy character driven books often. I don't need a twisty, intricate or fast-paced plot to be engaged with a novel. I do need characters I like or care about to enjoy a novel and this book challenged me in that area. We meet Connell and Marianne when they are still in high school where their relationship begins and remains in secret. Connell's mother is the cleaning woman for Marianne's mother. This notion of class and how it influences their relationship is explored, though both of them seem to want to deny its influence. The novel follows them through college and while they each have relationships with other people, they are inevitably drawn back to each other over and over again. This book made me uncomfortable. Marianne's destructive behavior in sexual relationships is disturbing. Her family situation is not made explicitly clear, but there is certainly trauma. I was frustrated by the ending. I don't always need a happily ever after, all conflicts resolved conclusion. However I found this ending abrupt. I truly don't want to say more to avoid spoilers. It took a bit for me to become accustomed to the writing style and choices. There was dialogue, but no quotes. The chapters had time stamps, but it still shifted to previous time within those chapters. I know this is a popular author and her books have a huge audience. This one will no doubt find its audience as well, but it just doesn't include me.
This book surprised me. I am still shocked at how much I enjoyed it. I am generally drawn to more fantastical books, this book, is not that. It is an extremely honest and emotionally riveting book. I received an advanced electronic copy of this book and I found myself constantly taking pictures of the pages so that I could remember certain lines, remember certain interactions. Sally Rooney is a talented and beautiful writer. It was a raw and honest look into the lives of two seemingly normal people. This book had a very voyeuristic feel to it, watching these people grow up, seeing their private moments, being a part of their lives as they fold into each other in such a beautiful and poetic way. "Maybe they were just curious to observe the chemistry between to people who, over the course of several years, apparently could not leave one another alone" Its hard for me to put into words the premise of this story, or the way it made me feel. Every time I try to write it, it's not enough, it doesn't do the story or the writing justice. This book is not just words on paper, it's so much more than that. I loved this book, I loved the characters, I loved the writing. Easily the best book I read all year.
3.5 Stars For This Moving and Disturbing Story If I were to simply tell you what this story is about on the surface, it would end up sounding too commonplace to be of much interest. A story of a popular high school boy, Connell, whose mother cleans house for the mother of an awkward high school age girl, Marianne. A girl who is somewhat of social outcast at their high school. Aside from seeing him routinely outside of school when he picks his mother up at her house, the only other thing they have in common is that they’re both bright students. In fact, they are the smartest in their class. Book smart, anyway. A somewhat awkward relationship starts as they have small opportunities to talk while he waits for his mother to finish her cleaning chores, and it isn’t long before they are involved in a secret, sexual relationship. Secret, because he doesn’t want his friends to know, and because she is so used to being treated poorly by her family and others, this doesn’t seem to raise an issue for her. After graduation, they both attend Trinity College in Dublin, and their roles are reversed in terms of popularity. This creates a personal struggle for Connell, and for Marianne, as the shift in their relationship becomes more apparent, their friendship begins to be affected. Following their on-and-off relationship over the years, this began to suffer, for me, as the story went on. There seemed to be rather significant gaps in the story, I didn’t understand her lack of a relationship with her family, her brother’s abusive attitude and behavior, or her mother’s lack of anything approaching affection for her. There were parts that I loved, parts that I found disturbing, and parts that just felt awkward. Overall I found myself deeply moved, and alternately disturbed, by this story. Many thanks for the ARC provided by Crown Publishing / Hogarth
Believe the hype: Sally Rooney is a star, and Normal People is a fantastic book. Not that anything I write in this review will communicate that, because the great pleasure of reading a Sally Rooney book (Conversations with Friends is also terrific) is plunging into her idiosyncratic voice, which is bracingly sharp and clear, instantly recognizable and different from anything I’ve ever read. Normal People details the on again, off again relationship between wealthy, intellectual misfit Marianne and Connell, the smart, popular son of the woman who cleans Marianne’s house, in a series of chapters that alternate between their perspectives and jump forward in time (sometimes days, sometimes months, sometimes hours) over the course of four years, during which they graduate from high school and move from their small provincial town to Trinity College in Dublin. But what elevates this novel beyond just another campus romance is Rooney’s uncanny ability to get under the skin of her characters—they are excruciatingly believable at an almost cellular level. Take, for instance, how the teenaged Connell, in the early awkward moments of his relationship with Marianne, “presses his hands down slightly further into his pockets, as if trying to store his entire body in his pockets all at once,” or how social outcast Marianne has “the sense that her real life was happening somewhere very far away, happening without her, and she didn’t know if she would ever find out where it was and become part of it.” Their dialogue—whether in face-to-face conversations or over text or email (they are millennials, after all)—is never inauthentic; it always sounds as real and unforced as a conversation you would overhear on the street or at the next table in a restaurant. Rooney’s great trick is that she manages to achieve this deep emotional resonance with prose that sounds almost detached. That might not seem like a good enough reason to pick up this book, but I promise you—it is. I cared about Connell and Marianne and felt a frisson of excitement in recognizing bits of my younger self and my own children in them, and in seeing how Rooney accomplishes the hard work of making her writing seem effortless. Just make sure when you do pick up Normal People—and you must—that you have a large chunk of available time ahead of you, because you won’t want to put it down.
I really wanted to love this novel, so I went in to it with the belief that I was absolutely going to devour it. When I began reading it, I had a really hard time with the writing; or rather, the editing. I have learned that I prefer punctuation when reading a book. I don’t only prefer it; I really desire it. It made reading the entire story very abrupt, if that makes sense. While understanding and sometimes enjoying the relationship between Marianne and Connell throughout the years, the book was a struggle for me. I really enjoyed their High School years the most, after that it all got a bit bland for me. I felt no connection to this book. Maybe I am missing something, and I feel awful if I am. I am sure there are some readers that will enjoy this particular style of writing and storyline, it just was not for me.