Normal People

Sally Rooney brings her psychological acuity to the pages as she masterfully describes the complexities of first loves, flawed friendships, and broken families in nuanced detail.

Not for the first time Marianne thinks cruelty does not only hurt the victim, but the perpetrator also, and maybe more deeply and more permanently.

— Sally Rooney


In school, Connell was popular and well-adjusted, while Marianne was isolated and lonely. Despite that, they felt a deep bond and attraction. One they were determined to keep hidden. Now both in college, the dynamic has shifted. Marianne has found her social circle, while Connell feels unsure and unliked. As the years pass, the two friends come together and fall apart from misunderstandings and perceived hurts. When Marianne’s life starts spiraling, and Connell is finding meaning for himself, they must decide what they are willing to do to help each other and themselves.

If people appeared to behave pointlessly in grief, it was only because human life was pointless, and this was the truth that grief revealed.

— Sally Rooney


Psychologically, this novel is heavy and complex. Sally Rooney explores numerous personal and social topics – from drugs and sex, to depression and suicide, and even love, secrecy, and abuse. My high esteem of this book isn’t to say that it’s one that calls to me to own and reread or even recommend it. Yet I know that I will do all those things, because the topics are so important and underrepresented, and Rooney addresses them so delicately yet unflinchingly.

The flow of the book is very interesting – each chapter progresses in time through the handful of years after Connell and Marianne first get together. However, spliced into the current timeline is a flashback memory that offers more details and understanding to their present situation. It’s a very well executed way to bump us forward in time to a new situation that seems puzzling at first, but then is explained by the flashback. I quite enjoy that literary technique of not getting all the information in a linear fashion.

The mood of the novel is grim, with just the merest hint of hope. The few hopeful moments scattered throughout the book are even tinged with sorrow or uncertainty. Normal People has such a visceral mood that I felt like I was reading on a gloomy day. While this might seem like a critique, it’s actually a praise of the connection of my feelings to the characters and content of the book. Rooney was able to extract those deep emotions in me through her writing. Brilliant!

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.

— Sally Rooney

This book isn’t a bright, uplifting read. It’s more important and momentous than that. It offers truths about humanity and personal connection, told through the flawed and pained lives of two people who want nothing more than to be normal and loved. This love story isn’t a romance, it’s a journey through the darkest parts of our hearts…hopefully back to each other.

He knew then that the secret for which he had sacrificed his own happiness and the happiness of another person had been trivial all along, and worthless.

— Sally Rooney

Normal People
by Sally Rooney
Hardcover, 273 pages
Published April 16th 2019 by Hogarth (first published August 28th 2018)


Sally Rooney brings her psychological acuity to the pages as she masterfully describes the complexities of first loves, flawed friendships, and broken families in nuanced detail. This love story isn't a romance, it's a journey through the darkest parts of our hearts...hopefully back to each other.

— Cassie
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