Spoilers for Normal People
Reading Sally Rooney’s Normal People is like sitting in a waiting room, but the magazine you’re reading is absolutely riveting. That’s probably the best way I can describe this book, and I say it in the best way possible. Normal People has this slow, meandering pace that does not agree with everyone, but that I personally enjoy.
The pacing of the novel is slow yet fast at the same time, it feels like it’s constantly building, despite being interspersed with flashbacks. It creates this strange reading experience, like you’re on a roller coaster that’s only going up – but the view is spectacular. It’s a strange way to tell a story, but for this narrative I don’t think it could have worked any other way.
The characters are incredibly vivid in their simplicity. They really are just normal people. They have trauma and mental health issues – which has unfortunately become normal for many of us today. They are not really main characters in the way that we are used to. They have no huge features or traits that separate them from other people. They don’t stand out, and yet they are just as important as any other person.
The background characters are just as simple and vivid. They don’t feel like background characters, it is obvious that they are all the protagonists in their own stories, even those who are antagonists in this one. There is just enough detail for an audience to latch onto, even if we never get the full picture of someone. Something as simple as an offhand comment or the way that someone carries themselves is often all we get from the character description, yet it’s enough to paint a picture of who that person is.
The themes of class and class disparity is incredibly easy to see in our two main characters, Marianne and Connell. Marianne is incredibly wealthy, while Connell comes from a working class background. The two of them actually met because Connell’s mother cleans Marianne’s house. This is a theme that is present throughout all of the book. Even though Marianne is very well-read and considers herself very class-conscious, there are some things that she just will never understand in a meaningful way, due to the way she was brought up. Connell is well-read as well, but he has not had to study class issues in an intellectual sense, as it is his lived experience. While the people around him treat money and poverty as an intellectual exercise, a hypothetical, he has to stand there knowing that they will likely never face the same challenges as him, having parents who could pay their ways through university, and likely support them beyond that.
This shines through especially near the middle of the book, when the students find themselves taking scholarship exams. Basically, if you score a certain level or above on this exam, you get the next few years of uni paid for you, and you may even be able to continue on to do a masters. It is a huge deal, and a massive accomplishment. Both Connell and Marianne get this scholarship, but for them it means two very different things. For Connell it is a matter of survival. It means he can actually live his next few years without the financial burden being as heavy as it could have been. But for Marianne it seems to be just another badge of honor for her, as she doesn’t really need the money, since her mother has paid for her schooling. However, it does give Marianne some freedom from her toxic family, as she is no longer dependent on them for money.
The ending of this book made me want to throw it against the wall. The entire book has us caught up in a will-they-won’t-they, and I was desperately hoping they would end up together. They kind of didn’t, though. And though I know it was necessary for their character arcs, I still felt a sense of disappointment, which in this case was a well-written ending that left me wanting more.
is a young writer from Ottawa, Canada. When he isn’t in school, he enjoys reading, writing, crochet, and playing with his two cats. Their favorite genres are horror and fantasy, and they enjoy all things strange. You can find him on Instagram at @nate_fahmi
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