Ahead of the release of its TV adaptation, Arts Contributor Sophie Maxwell explains why Sally Rooney’s hit novel was the ideal book to kickstart her isolation reading.
2018’s hit novel Normal People by Sally Rooney may at first appear to be yet another shallow piece of romantic fiction; to be read on a summer holiday, swiftly forgotten about and eventually donated to a charity shop along with all the other ‘must-reads’ of the year.
Normal People begins by introducing Marianne and Connell: two individuals that share the same Irish town and school, but appear polarised in nature. Marianne is reserved, unoccupied by school hierarchy, concentrating merely on her solo existence and future beyond school in search of fulfilment. In contrast, Connell is consumed by his image and popularity at school (as a way to manage his working-class status), and lacks direction.
A fascination with one another strikes up a relationship whilst at school, known only to them. Through this, Marianne and Connell build a shared world that encapsulates understanding, power and togetherness. Rooney invites the reader to observe the development of Marianne and Connell, their dynamic relationship and the confounding factors that warp its direction throughout their late teens and early twenties.
Far from shallow fiction, Normal People is tender, playful and exciting. Rooney is masterful in her language whilst being succinct, which sets the novel apart from the classic tales found in the likes of Austen’s works. And that’s not all: Normal People presents equal perspective, sculpted by Rooney’s modern positionality, which offers a refreshing break from the greats. The characters she creates are familiar, as though parts of our own character have been borrowed, making the novel somewhat personal.
The responsiveness of Normal People in the need to navigate love in present day makes this novel an essential read in your twenties. Importantly, Rooney gives a platform to the tension that exists in making major decisions in life whilst bound to those you love. The acknowledgement of this alone can bring calm and perspective to your decision-heavy twenties. In line with this, Rooney uses Marianne and Connell’s relationship to depict the battleground of commitment in modern day. Raw, relatable moments between the two protagonists prompt you to think critically of their characters, and of your own. All of a sudden, loaded conversations with your parents over dinner about your plan post-university and your ‘not-boyfriend boyfriend’ fit along a timeline of events, just like those of normal people. It is no surprise that the novel has been labelled by many as by many as a future classic.
Normal People is a modest summary of the trials and tribulations of youthful love. Rooney writes with a liveliness that enables you to plant your feet firmly within each scene, inviting reflection and escapism from the dullness of lockdown.
The full series of Normal People is available on BBC Three from 26 April.
Featured image: TMDb