Review: Normal People
Normal People is a million-copy bestseller that has also been adapted into a BBC programme. It follows Connell and Marianne who grew up in the same small town in the west of Ireland, but their similarities end there. It is a story of mutual fascination, friendship and love. It takes us from their first conversation to the years beyond, in the company of two people who try to stay apart but find they can’t.
I picked up a copy of Normal People in my local Waterstones a couple of months ago, partially due to the fact I had heard so many people talking about it, partially because it was under the ‘buy one get one-half price’ offer. It is a relatively short book of just under 300 pages, so I finished it in a few days. It’s written from a 2nd person perspective, with each chapter alternating between Connell and Marianne. Like Beth O’Leary’s ‘The Flatshare’ I love this concept. I think it’s an amazing way of getting to know each character in more detail, especially the differences in the characters. Another reason I particularly liked this concept for Normal People, since Connell and Marianne’s lives are so intertwined, it was interesting seeing how conflicts occurred between them due to lack of communication and misunderstanding of thought processes. Just like in real life, Connell and Marianne are different people, they think differently about life, and thus in certain situations, Connell will think one thing and behave in the appropriate manner whereas Marianne will view it a different way and thus miscommunication ensues between them.
Something else I liked about Normal People was how realistic their relationship was. We follow Connell and Marianne from the age of around 17 to their early twenties, where relationships can be complicated due to the fact we as humans are still growing and developing as people and are still not 100% sure of what we want out of life, including what we want out of our relationships. A lot of contemporary romance novels can fall under the trap of developing this ‘perfect lovely-dovey’ relationship, (which is fine, who doesn’t love a good fluffy romance novel now and again,) but considering the overall tone of this novel, I’m glad that Rooney kept their relationship realistic, including them both exploring their sex lives. We don’t really follow much of Connell’s sex life outside of being with Marianne, but we do get to see Marianne struggle to cope/understand what she wants out of sex and why she behaves the way she does during sex. I think this is true for a lot of people in their early adult lives, we are still figuring out what we want out of a sexual relationship, what we like and don’t like. Some people are ashamed of certain kinks that develop, as society can deem anything that isn’t ‘vanilla sex’ as strange; it was nice to see Marianne struggle and come to terms with this concept.
Something that I personally had an issue with whilst reading Normal People was the hyper-focus on Marianne’s figure, or should I say, the constant talk of how thin she is and how she keeps getting thinner. I understand that a writing technique to show someone struggling mentally/emotionally/physically is to have the character lose weight and look thinner. However, I feel like Rooney focused on Marianne getting thinner a tad too much. There are different ways to show a character struggling other than getting thinner, but to me, it felt like Rooney only focused on Marianne’s weight loss, to the point where it became uncomfortable and unnecessary. Also, since Rooney has such a wonderful writing style, I’m afraid at some points it almost seemed like Marianne’s weight loss was romanticised and just added to Marianne’s strange and unique character, making her different from everyone else; this can be dangerous for readers who struggle with body issues and eating disorders and it may add to the idea that being thin will make people notice you more. I do not believe that this was Rooney’s intention whatsoever, my main comment overall is that she could’ve shown Marianne’s struggles in other ways than focusing on her losing weight.
Normal People is a beautifully written novel about two young people figuring out who they are and what they want from each other. I love that Rooney didn’t shy away from talking about sexual exploration and I like that there was equal focus on both the characters. I highly recommend anyone, especially young people, to read this book.
Review by Megan.