Marianne and Connell have an interesting relationship. Marianne is the quirky and intelligent outcast in their high school, while Connell is the well-liked dudebro jock. By all accounts, they should never cross paths. But Connell’s mom cleans Marianne’s family’s house, so they end up talking to each other quite a bit—twenty minutes here, twenty minutes there. Over time, they start a serious relationship—albeit a secret one, since Connell doesn’t want his friends to know he’s sleeping with the “school freak.” After an awkward goodbye when high school ends, the two go their separate ways to college.
Only they don’t. Ironically, they meet again at a random party freshman year, Connell suddenly finding himself unpopular and lonely, desperate to make friends, while Marianne is the bright and shining star in this more aggressively academic environment. The two quickly rekindle a friendship, and the rest of the book follows their on-again-off-again relationship over the next few years, as they try to figure out who they are as individuals and who they are together.
I loved Sally Rooney’s previous book Conversations with Friends. That story is moody and melancholy, but also quietly captivating. Thankfully, Normal People has the same complexity and is just as good, maybe even better. I was so engrossed by Marianne’s relationship with Connell. The two have such ridiculous issues with communication—I mean, for real, it’s almost not even believable at some points—but there is something about these wounded and surprisingly innocent characters that kept me coming back. It was like watching an episode of The Hills: you know it’s all a bit overwrought and manufactured, but, damn it, you’re into it.
My one big criticism is that the ending was a total dud. Reading those last few pages, I was just like, nope, can’t even. Give us more closure than that, Rooney, c’mon. But even a lackluster ending couldn’t take away from the magnificence of the rest of the novel. I just loved these little dumplings so much and, by the end, really wanted the best for them.
Keep the novels coming, Rooney. I’m already ready for the next one.
Big thank you to Sally Rooney, Faber & Faber, and Net Galley for the ARC!