The story of Connell and Marianne, Normal People is a yo-yo of emotions as they continue to come close, and then, part aways. It is a fine example of how two people can know each other so well, and yet, completely miss the most obvious signs. A series of such misses ensures that Connell and Marianne never have it steady.
The book, written by Sally Rooney, deals with a no. of uncomfortable subjects such as bullying, molestation, depression, physical and mental abuse. Rooney blends all these into the narrative in the most casual manner because that's how the characters are set up. Both Connell and (especially) Marianne find it hard to say the most apparent of things (e.g. “we should be together”) but will not blink an eye in talking about the most uneasy topics. Rooney also takes the support of socio-political undertones that create anchors for the characters and also adds to the setting.
The overall atmosphere throughout the book is gloomy and somewhat desolate. The narrative is written in the form of key incidents in the lives of the protagonists as they battle through their teenage and early adult years. The story keeps shifting to the past by days, weeks or months to give you more context of the current situation. The writing is so absorbing that you are thinking on behalf of the characters right from the start. I found myself getting pissed at Connell, getting furious with Jamie, giving a hand to Marianne and helping her climb out of a hole she does not know she is in. I got sucked right in it, and that is a huge plus.
One of the takeaways that the book tries to put forth is how an individual can grow by way of knowing and interacting with another person. This message is somewhat crudely delivered. For me, Marianne had deep-rooted issues stemming from her childhood, losing her dad, having an abusive brother and a dismissive mother. She always found it difficult to accept herself because of what she believed was permanent damage. So for her to be able to accept herself and move forward with a fresh perspective needed to be gradual. That ‘shift’ was a little too abrupt for me to appreciate.
Normal People may not be the best book I have read in the recent past. However, if you are a fan of intense writing, or love reading about relationships between flawed (read: real) characters, there is a good chance you would enjoy this one.
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