For those who know the song, “Killing Me Softly” made famous by Roberta Flack, this book emits the same sense of awe and familiarity to which the song’s narrator refers. Normal People tells the story of Marianne and Connell, two Irish teens who are inexplicably drawn to each other and consequently interwoven in each other’s lives forever.
Rooney’s novel follows both characters as they connect deeply with each other and with other partners, their romance with each other ebbing and flowing through the course of the story. The reader observes challenges that Marianne and Connell face as individuals, as partners, as friends, and much more. The story is realistic and poignant, and what propels Normal People to a higher level of excellence is its last few pages and *MILD SPOILER ALERT, highlight to read* the lack of resolution. The open-ended nature of their relationship is not defined at the story’s end, a testament to the lack of closure we sometimes experience in our own lives.
Full disclosure: in writing this review, I feel more vulnerable than I have when reviewing any other piece of work I’ve ever reflected upon. I feel I can confide in the internet void in saying that I recently went through an incredibly difficult breakup with the individual with whom I shared a relationship very similar to Connell and Marianne’s. Their constant connection to each other on a transcendental level; that person lingering in the back of your heart and mind even when surrounded by a new life; the desire to always be communicating with each other, even in the most mundane things– all of those quintessential “first love” characteristics that keep you drawn into a person without even fully understanding why sometimes are so distinctly portrayed and explicitly recognizable that one can’t help but to revisit the time when she experienced those things for herself. The freshness of my experience with this made Normal People an even more poignant read for me.
Normal People is, of course, filled with so much more than just this. The characters become more complex and intriguing with every page, and Rooney addresses things like social status and access to education, etc., which expertly fortify the rich narrative. These technical elements are wonderful, and what elevates them to create more than just a “good book”, for me, is the way they mix together to create something purely recognizable on the page. Normal People inspired such introspection, it afforded me chances to reminisce upon positive experiences with someone who I still haven’t quite been able to shake, and it challenged me to rely on my own strength at times. I recognize the melodrama in that sentence (but I also went to school for theatre and music so the drama’s probably not going anywhere, sorry!), but I did find myself needing to put the book down a couple times, overwhelmed with nostalgia, and while it was a bit uncomfortable at moments, it’s a testament to the power that Rooney is able to infuse into these pages.
Find Normal People here or at your local library, and, as always, happy reading! 🙂