Irish author, Sally Rooney’s, latest contemporary fiction novel, Normal People, is getting much more hype recently, thank to the series of the same name premiering on Hulu. Being a strict “read the book before watching the movie” person, I had to read the book before I watch. I did watch a trailer for the Hulu series, however, and found that the dialog followed that of the book exactly, so that’s a good sign. Rooney’s books are wonderful, thought-provoking, and real. J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Maine and the upcoming release Friends & Strangers called Normal People “a studding novel about the transformative power of relationships.” I agree wholeheartedly with Sullivan and couldn’t have described it better if I tried.
The story takes place in a small town in Ireland. Connell and Marianne grew up together and went to school together. Though they knew each other well, at school they pretended not to have anything to do with one another. Connell and Marianne couldn’t be more different if they tried. Connell is from a very poor family, but he is popular, handsome, and an athletic star. Marianne, while from a rich family with a large home, is a major loner. She keeps to herself and is rather socially awkward. Connell’s mother is Marianne’s family housecleaner, and the two teenagers often see each other when Connell comes to collect his mother from work. Though they act like strangers at school, when they are alone, they are drawn to each other like magnets. Neither understands the intense attraction they have for one another, but they certainly do not ignore it. I will say that Marianne may live in a huge home, but its certainly not a love-filled home. In fact, readers will be shocked to discover what she has to deal with in her own home.
The book then skips forward a year later when both Connell and Marianne are at Trinity College in Dublin. Neither have seen much of each other in a while, and their roles have changed quite a bit. Connell runs into Marianne at a party and can hardly make sense of the new Marianne. She is now in a social friend group and seems to be thriving, while Connell has become shy and uncertain. Though both dates other students, they keep circling back to one another over and over again, irresistibly drawn together in an intensely passionate affair.
Thus is the story of Normal People – a story of mutual fascination, lifelong friendship, and passionate love. The book is compulsively readable with relatable characters which readers will both empathize with and root for, as they find their way back to one another, time and time again.