Book review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

Title: Normal People

Author: Sally Rooney

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Publication date: 28th August 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆


“Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. When they both earn places at Trinity College in Dublin, a connection that has grown between them lasts long into the following years.

This is an exquisite love story about how a person can change another person’s life – a simple yet profound realisation that unfolds beautifully over the course of the novel. It tells us how difficult it is to talk about how we feel and it tells us – blazingly – about cycles of domination, legitimacy and privilege. Alternating menace with overwhelming tenderness, Sally Rooney’s second novel breathes fiction with new life.”

My review:

Normal People is a coming of age story exploring human emotions and connections and the difficult moments in life. It aims to promote these themes through the voices of the two main characters, Marianne and Connell, and their differences in upbringing.

The writing style consists of everyday informal speech and lack of quotation marks which puzzled me at first. I struggled to understand why the author chose such an unusual way to write this book but I assume it was implemented to embody real life and represent breaks and silences in dialogue and the human struggle to formulate thoughts and emotions. Although I opposed this writing style at first, I gradually eased into it and by the end found it to be a powerful writing mechanism and one of the main strengths of the book.

The story line in Normal People sometimes feels disjointed due to several flashbacks and time jumps. They added an element of mystery however also disrupted the flow and I don’t believe were the smartest choice for plot continuity. As much as I tried to interpret the plot and guess which direction it was heading in, I felt a little disappointed each time I moved onto a new chapter as there was no depth in the plot and it felt as if the writing was moving aimlessly from one milestone in the characters’ lives to another and by the end it seemed like nothing had transpired between the two main characters which was frustrating.

My main issue with this book was the lack of depth and connection between Marianne and Connell. The author tried almost too hard to convey a deep emotional and physical connection and several moments felt too forced. The dialogue was awkward and stilted and I continuously struggled to understand their reasons to stay together as it appeared that they didn’t have anything in common. The break ups and reconciliations which followed were mostly due to a lack of communication which was exhausting and frustrating to follow. I tried hard to connect with them but ultimately could not understand their intentions or empathise with some of their struggles. Unfortunately the secondary characters were even more bland and one dimensional. They were introduced with the purpose of bringing insight into Marianne and Connell’s background, such as Marianne’s abusive brother and apathetic mother, but were presented without much depth and in a bad light rather than as complex and multidimensional characters.

I struggled to understand the hype surrounding this book after finishing it. Although I appreciate the difficult themes it advocates, I felt that the characters were too unlikable and the execution weak at times. At first I believed that perhaps I was missing something but upon reflection I feel that it is a book that could be interpreted in different ways depending on the reader’s emotional state and current events in their life. I understand why it may have had a significant impact on some readers however for me it left a lot to be desired.

14 thoughts on “Book review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

  1. Great review. I am so happy to find an honest review of this book which is not all praises. Perhaps that is the reason I have not picked up this book yet – not only it does not appeal to me emotionally, I would also find all the time jumps and “aimless” writing frustrating 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fantastic review! This book has been on my TBR for a while, but I’m in no rush to pick it up. I’m glad that the lack of quotation marks turned out to be a powerful writing mechanism, although it’s a bummer that the plot lacked depth 😕.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have seen all the hype around this book and it looks like one that you either love or you don’t. A brilliant and very thoughtfully written review, Darina. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it. We usually have very similar opinions on books, so I think I’ll probably skip this one! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know what you mean, Jennifer! It’s strange how the mind perceives direct speech and how much harder it is to follow writing without it. I hope you are enjoying it!


  4. Thank you for your honest thoughts, Darina. I am not really sure if I want to pick that book up now but perhaps it would be a good idea just to experience it and compare notes. I must say I didn’t quite get the bbc series, either. Great acting, and Daisy Edgar-Jones was brilliant in it but I expected something to happen all the time, and nothing did!

    Well done for sharing your true feelings about this book! It seems a lot of your fellow book bloggers and connoisseurs agree!

    Liked by 1 person

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