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Book Reviews

Review of Normal People by Sally Rooney

Hello fellow bookworms! It’s been a while since I’ve written a book review and I keep meaning to review a lot of the books I read and end up leaving it too late. But here we are now, and I have been taking notes as I read to remind myself what to say… I’m trying a slightly new system so my reviews are a bit more structured and brief, only touching on the things I specifically noted to talk about rather than going into loads of detail.

Normal People has been a hit since its release in 2018, and already has a TV series on BBC Three. This story has resonated with so many readers and viewers, and after being recommended to me time and time again, I thought it was about time I read it…

Review of Normal People

About the book

Taken from the back cover…

Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. When they both earn places at Trinity College in Dublin, a connection that has grown between them lasts long into the following years.

This is an exquisite love story about how a person can change another person’s life – a simple yet profound realisation that unfolds beautifully over the course of the novel. It tells us how difficult it is to talk about how we feel and it tells us – blazingly – about cycles of domination, legitimacy and privilege. Alternating menace with overwhelming tenderness, Sally Rooney’s second novel breathes fiction with new life.

5 Reasons Why I Recommend This Book

1. It’s marketed as Literary Fiction, but I would categorise it more under YA/New Adult

If you went into any bookshop looking for this book, I guarantee you would find it in the Standard Fiction section, or Contemporary Fiction depending on how deeply categorised your local bookstore is! However, while I can understand the writing is more advanced and almost academic compared to what you would find in a standard YA novel, the characters which the book is primarily based around are in their teens and early twenties throughout the entirety of the story, which for me would at least put it under New Adult. I think it’s important to highlight this, as there is a lot of life in this book which readers in the same age bracket as the characters will soak up and learn from.

2. The intelligence of the main characters

I love in books and TV when the characters are smart and work hard to be where they want to be. I found Connell’s character especially motivating, the way he studies hard to get the results he wants, and ends up realising what he wants and going for it, without worrying about gaining approval from others. Educational settings is one of my favourite tropes, particularly in YA fiction, so the parts which touched on Connell and Marianne at college/university was really interesting to me.

3. The subtle details

This book is short, but by no means rushed. After the first few chapters, I was expecting the 260 pages to span from their school days all the way to adulthood (and that may in part be the fault of the genre categorisation) but while the novel is fast paced, Rooney also packs in so many minute details which bring the story to life in ways you don’t realise writing can. There were parts I read and could clearly see what the character was doing. The author records the smallest of movements which you would do in your daily life and wouldn’t think twice about. In that way, the book is highly immersive.

4. The story tackles issues such as mental health, domestic and sexual abuse, and grief

This book should definitely come recommended with some trigger warnings! I wasn’t necessarily shocked to find the author documenting these issues, as they appear quite frequently in current literary fiction, but I don’t think I was prepared for how they would be expressed. As I said above, Rooney goes into quite a lot of detail in her writing which makes it quite raw, and she definitely doesn’t sugar coat anything. This did mean it was hard to read at times (more on this below) but it was also incredibly well communicated and really explores what can happen behind closed doors.

5. The plot was very human

I think this final point encompasses all of the above. This book should not be taken lightly. It does not hold back on anything and it really does make you think about your relationships with family, friends, and other people around you, and what it feels like to be human.

5 Reasons Why It’s Not 5 Stars

1. The strange chronology

I found myself quite often having to skip back and check I hadn’t missed something because the transitions between present and past seemed very sudden and sometimes unnecessary. I thought it was structured in quite a strange way which stunted the flow of reading on occasion.

2. This is more of a character or life study, as opposed to an actual story. There was no driving plot line to keep me motivated to read

My advice to you if you’re going to pick this book up would be: don’t go into it thinking it will be an unputdownable story with loads of plot twists. I found this book to be more driven by the characters that by an actual plot line. It very much examines them and their lives and isn’t necessarily following some highly crafted plot line. As I said above, I would recommend this book for the human aspect of the writing, but this isn’t something that kept me motivated to pick up the book and read it.

3. The events could be quite repetitive

This ties in with the fact that the book is more of a character study. Due to there being no plot as such, and we just following the very ‘normal’ lives of these characters, the things that happen in the book could get quite repetitive. This is mainly in the case of Connell and Marianne’s relationship and the constant back and forth, but there were other small things that happen a bit too frequently which makes you think the characters don’t learn from their mistakes…

4. Aside from the two main characters (and Lorraine, I loved Lorraine!) there was no real character depth, which meant their actions were often unexplained and confusing

Besides Connell, Lorraine was my favourite character. But apart from the two of them and Marianne, I found the rest of the characters lacking in back story and depth to really get to know them enough. I completely understand this book is very much Connell-and-Marianne-centric, but it’s nice to have some backstory as an explanation as to why characters do certain things and act certain ways.

5. It wasn’t necessarily the most enjoyable book to read at times

As I said above, this book tackles some issues that were at times difficult to read. The way Rooney writes and frames the narrative makes everything feel so real and sometimes hard to read, especially if readers have previously experienced any of these issues, no matter how severely. I wouldn’t necessarily say this was something that made me knock off a star, but I thought it should be mentioned in case there are readers who don’t want to read about certain things.

Have you read Normal People? What did you think? I’d love to know if any of our thoughts coincide, feel free to leave a comment below and we can discuss!

Take care everyone.

Until next time…

Jade 🙂