Sometimes, you just need to read a book with a friend in order to truly appreciate its beauty of writing and sadness in its telling. Jan and I had so much to say and speak about in this story that it made us both realize what a wonderful book this was. Any book that makes for a road traveled through darkness and despair can certainly be one that encourages deep and meaningful thoughts and words. Normal People was just such a book.
How do two damaged people, who long for nothing more than to be “normal”, navigate the intricacies of a relationship? This book tore my heart out and stomped on it, and I mean that in the best possible way.
Marianne and Connell become acquainted when his mother is the housekeeper for her family. Marianne’s family is wealthy, but she is the smart, nerdy, unattractive girl who is an outcast at school while Connell also smart, is the popular jock. They enter into a relationship that he wants to keep secret. Marianne doesn’t feel as if she deserves anything more than this and so accepts these terms. The relationship has its ups and downs and neither can communicate well with the other.
Circumstances occur that drive them apart but their paths cross in college and they find their positions are reversed. Marianne is now the sophisticated, popular girl while Connell’s lower socioeconomic status makes him feel unworthy. He is now the unpopular one who is the outsider.
In the ensuing years, they drift in and out of each other’s lives. As the reader, we are privy to their innermost thoughts and desires, their longings and their pain. We know their sensitivities, and what makes them tick. We learn details of their backgrounds and the resulting pain and hurt.
Sometimes the damage and the pain is just too deep to reveal oneself to another. It’s better to bury it and deny it, to pretend to not care as a defense mechanism. The truth is you care very much, but you don’t feel deserving of love and kindness. Such a person often turns to unhealthy ways of managing their pain. When I discovered one of Marianne’s coping mechanisms it was devastating.
“Deep down she knows she is a bad personality, corrupted, wrong, and all her efforts to be right, to have the right opinions, to say the right things, these efforts only disguise what is buried inside her, the evil part of herself.”
On seeing two friends happy together… “It gives Marianne a window into real happiness, though a window she cannot open herself or ever climb through.”
I loved the way the author portrayed these characters as so very flawed, but gave us the information we needed to understand them. There’s so much pain in their young lives that it made my heart hurt.
Connell is just as broken:
“he had just wanted to be normal, to conceal the parts of himself that he found shameful and confusing.”
“…internally he felt nothing. He was like a freezer item that had thawed too quickly on the outside and was melting everywhere, while the inside was still frozen solid.”
Can these two people ever find happiness? Not just with each other, but with life in general. My heart broke, then grew hopeful, and then broke again.
I read the majority of this novel in one sitting. I could not tear myself away. The writing is gorgeous and I’m in awe that someone so young has such insight into the human heart and can write in a way that delivers such an emotional punch.
It’s no secret that books that delve deep into a character’s psyche are my favorite types of reads. They deliver all the emotions that makes for an unforgettable read. People who walk around with invisible scars that make them feel unworthy and ‘less than’ touch me deeply. Yes, this is fiction, but I know there are people walking around just as scarred.
The ending…I don’t see how it could have ended any other way. It isn’t tied up in a neat bow but gives the reader much to ponder.
Note there are no quotation marks which I can find annoying and gimmicky, but in this case it worked and worked well. After a few pages I didn’t even notice.
Marialyce and I read and discussed this together. It’s a book that begs to be discussed the minute you turn the last page.
Many thanks to Netgalley for my copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
In this age of instant communication, texts, email, social media, we do think that we make instant connections, that people understand us, they get us and we get them. However, what is often left unsaid, contained within our mind, might just be the link to our happiness. For the two main protagonists in this book, their communication with one another never really happens for one is ever so afraid to open up herself and the other is afraid of the social strata he thinks he just can never attain.
Marianne, is a troubled young woman, a pariah in high school, an abused child who retreats into her shell and allows no one to invade her inner self. She knows Connell, a fellow student, the son of a woman who is a maid to her family so when they strike up a relationship initially sexual in nature, but then it develops into something more. Their relationship is kept ever so secret, and they avoid each other so awkwardly in social situations that it is painful to read of their struggles.
Connell is attracted to Marianne. He is the handsome, out going, brilliant student who looks like, on the surface, to have it all. But, he too, harbors major insecurities and when both Marianne and Connell head off to Trinity College, those deep devils embedded in both their psyches begin to emerge in force. They both feel unworthy, Marianne feels she should be abused for that is what she deserves, “There’s always been something inside her that men have wanted to dominate, and their desire for domination can look so much like attraction, even love.” while Connell feels that he just does not belong, lacking the thing he thinks makes the world go round. “That’s money, the substance that makes the world real. There’s something so corrupt and sexy about it” They are both intellectually brilliant, but in matters of the heart and living, they are ever so lacking.
This is such a sad tale, for these two people thrown together through their young lives, love and care for one another. Problem is one is ever so afraid to let it be known because she feels she deserves abuse, while the other can’t seem to feel he is worthy of anything, especially love. As they grow into young adults their roles reverse as Marianne becomes what Connell once was and Connell becomes what Marianne was. It’s a story of words unspoken, of thoughts not expressed, of two lives that should have melded together and yet are worlds apart. Neither one of them feels worthy of love, worthy of holding a place on this earth, and the tragedy of this story is that they might never find out that they are destined to be with one another.
Sally Rooney has written a tale of heartbreak and hopelessness. She takes us deep inside her characters, allowing the reader to truly see their melancholy and misery. In this world of people portraying their lives so openly on social media platforms is this story really the way many people are, insecure, forlorn, and in misery? Or is it that these two characters are so psychologically broken that their chances for happiness will never happen and they will go through their lives broken, dejected, and disheartened? It’s their fear and their thought that they deserve misery that drives them. This is a tale of woe, depression, and despondency.