Book Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

Normal People…

About the Book:

Winner: 2019 Novel of the Year and Book of the Year at the British Book Awards, and the 2018 Costa Novel Award: Sally Rooney set the books world buzzing in 2017 with her debut Conversations With Friends.

Normal People is a girl-meets-boy story with a difference, interrogating the difficulties of sincere communication in a complicated, post-ironic world.

Long-listed Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019 UK
Long-listed MAN Booker Prize 2018 UK

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.

My Thoughts:

What can I say about Normal People that hasn’t already been said? It has almost 80,000 ratings on Goodreads, the majority of these three, four and five stars. I myself have given it four stars, but I only downgraded it from five stars when I got to the last page. That ending! No! I hate it when a book just stops like that. I just wanted to reach in and shake these two characters and say to them: “No. Not again!” – but enough about that. I’ve settled on four stars so that’s what it’s going to be – but in case you were wondering, it really is more like four and a half/four and three quarters.

I found Normal People to be one of those novels you just slip into and exist in for the duration. The absence of dialogue punctuation – usually something that would bother me greatly – added to this sense of intimacy. I also really liked the style of each chapter moving ahead a few weeks or months, with passages of recall to get you up to speed on the intervening moments. It takes a great deal of skill to write in this way, not everybody could pull this off. And then there’s the Irish wit and ironic humour. I suppose, in a way, given my love of Irish literature, this one was always going to be a winner for me.

If ever there was a couple destined to be together, Connell and Marianne are it. But this is not a love story, or at least, not in the traditional romantic sense. It’s more 80s angst, despite being set from 2011 through to 2015. 80s angst with a millennial edge – there you go! When Connell and Marianne first become involved whilst at high school, all of the power within their relationship seems to rest with Connell. When they connect again at college, the balance of power appears to have tilted in Marianne’s favour. But in reality, over time, we see how each of them are fully at the mercy of the other, and herein lies the truth about their relationship: they are better together than apart. Things never go right for the other whenever they are separated. Yet, an inability to fully communicate with each other that seemed rooted in that fear of judgement that seems to besiege young people these days, sees them stuck in a toxic cycle of pain and misunderstanding.

This is not just a story about Connell and Marianne as a couple though. It’s also their individual stories. I ached for them both as they navigated their way through life, desperately seeking the status of being normal. There’s heavy themes woven tightly into the lives of these two, things that many of us might be able to relate to on a more intimate level than we would ever have wished. But that’s life for you – you don’t always get the best hand dealt to you. I was on the verge of tears for a lot of this story, not because it’s overly sad but because sometimes really shitty things happen in life and Sally just seemed to nail this so well. To say I loved this novel is possibly an understatement. I’m starting to think now, after writing this review, that I need to just let go of my hang up about the ending and give it five stars. I have a definite book hangover from this one, and that doesn’t happen very often to me.

‘Even in memory she will find this moment unbearably intense, and she’s aware of this now, while it’s happening. She has never believed herself fit to be loved by any person. But now she has a new life, of which this is the first moment, and even after many years have passed she will think: Yes, that was it, the beginning of my life.’


I love this review by Kate over at booksaremyfavouriteandbest, her literary mixtape for Normal People. So on point. She prompted me to just get on and read it already, but she also made me think about it in terms of music. I have just one track on repeat for this, my Normal People anthem if you like:
Powderfinger’s My Happiness, but this particular version covered by Ballpark Music last year for Triple J’s Like a Version.

Thanks is extended to Allen and Unwin for providing me with a copy of Normal People for review.

About the Author:

Sally Rooney was born in 1991 and lives in Dublin. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Granta, The White Review, The Dublin Review, The Stinging Fly, Kevin Barry’s Stonecutter and The Winter Page anthology. Her debut novel, Conversations with Friends, was the most popular debut in the 2017 end-of-year round-ups. Rooney was shortlisted for the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award for ‘Mr Salary’ and was the winner of the Sunday Times/PFD Young Writer of the Year Award.

Normal People
Published by Faber
B format edition released May 2019

15 thoughts on “Book Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

  1. Isn’t it frustrating when you can’t give half stars on Goodreads. Sometimes there can be a whole lot of difference between a three and a four or a four and a five. Interesting point about dialogue punctuation – the absence of that usually makes me cranky too. I think it comes from all those years teaching students the conventions of writing only to see authors throw it out the window. I like the idea of having a music anthem for a book though, book lovers often turn out to be music nerds too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t usually mind variations in the rules of punctuation, not if the meaning is clear anyway. What I find more frustrating is when there’s a long conversation and something breaks the ping-pong effect and I lose track of which one is saying what. And then you have to go back to the beginning to work it out.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Confession: I skimmed a couple of parts of this review, JUST IN CASE, because Normal People has been on my TBR forever and I’m worried about getting TOO EXCITED for it! But so glad to hear that you loved it (mostly), that’s a great tick in its column 😉👏

    Liked by 1 person

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