Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in the west of Ireland, but the similarities end there. In school, Connell is popular and well-liked, while Marianne is a loner. But when the two strike up a conversation – awkward but electrifying – something life-changing begins.
Normal People is a story of mutual fascination, friendship and love. It takes us from that first conversation to the years beyond, in the company of two people who try to stay apart but find they can’t.
Marianne answers the door when Connell rings the bell. She’s still wearing her school uniform, but she’s taken off the sweater, so it’s just the blouse and skirt, and she has no shoes on, only tights.
solid, good read:
This is the second time I’ve read Normal People, and I have to say it was so much better on the second read. Either that or reading Conversations with Friends first gave me a better perspective on Rooney’s writing style. Whatever the reason, this was an excellent reread.
Nothing had meant more to Rob than the approval of others; to be thought well of, to be a person of status. He would have betrayed any confidence, any kindness, for the promise of social acceptance. Connell couldn’t judge him for that. He’d been the same way himself, or worse. He had just wanted to be normal, to conceal the parts of himself that he found shameful and confusing. It was Marianne who had shown him other things were possible. Life was different after that; maybe he had never understood how different it was.
There’s something about these two deeply weird people wanting so desperately to be normal that is hard to look away from. It’s awkward and painful and cringey at times, but it’s also heartfelt and emotional and real. I loved how the power dynamic between Connell and Marianne flip-flopped back and forth. They both treated each other terribly and wonderfully in so many ways. I don’t think either of them is a particularly good person, but a lot of the time, they are at least good friends to each other.
In a series of emails they exchanged recently about their own friendship, Marianne expressed her feelings about Connell mainly in terms of her sustained interest in his opinions and beliefs, the curiosity she feels about his life, and her instinct to survey his thoughts whenever she feels conflicted about anything. He expressed himself more in terms of identification, his sense of rooting for her and suffering with her when she suffers, his ability to perceive and sympathise with her motivations. Marianne thought this had something to do with gender roles. I think I just like you a lot as a person, he replied defensively. That’s actually very sweet, she wrote back.
For them to come so far to let it fall apart when they’re in such a good place and have realised so many important things about themselves and their relationship. It’s very open-ended, of course, they could easily fall back together again, but it feels like they’re just making something already overcomplicated more difficult.
I haven’t watched the tv show since it first came out, but I remember it not being as good as the book (are they ever, though?). But I may have to rewatch it; if the book was better on the reread, maybe the show would be better on the rewatch.