Normal People

Normal People

by Sally Rooney

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Overview

NOW AN EMMY-NOMINATED HULU ORIGINAL SERIES • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “A stunning novel about the transformative power of relationships” (People) from the author of Conversations with Friends, “a master of the literary page-turner” (J. Courtney Sullivan).
 
ONE OF THE TEN BEST NOVELS OF THE DECADE—Entertainment Weekly

TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR—People, Slate, The New York Public Library, Harvard Crimson

AND BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR—The New York TimesThe New York Times Book Review, O: The Oprah Magazine, Time, NPR, The Washington Post, Vogue, Esquire, Glamour, Elle, Marie Claire, Vox, The Paris Review, Good Housekeeping, Town & Country

Connell and Marianne grew up in the same small town, but the similarities end there. At 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.

A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years at university, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. And as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.

Normal People is the 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 that they can’t.
 
Praise for Normal People
 
“[A] novel that demands to be read compulsively, in one sitting.”The Washington Post

“Arguably the buzziest novel of the season, Sally Rooney’s elegant sophomore effort . . . is a worthy successor to Conversations with Friends. Here, again, she unflinchingly explores class dynamics and young love with wit and nuance.”The Wall Street Journal

“[Rooney] has been hailed as the first great millennial novelist for her stories of love and late capitalism. . . . [She writes] some of the best dialogue I’ve read.”The New Yorker

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

[Rooney] has invented a sensibility entirely of her own: sunny and sharp, free of artifice but overflowing with wisdom and intensity. . . . The novel touches on class, politics, and power dynamics and brims with the sparky, witty conversation that Rooney’s fans will recognize.”Vogue 

“A future classic.”The Guardian

Rooney is a tough girl; her papercut-sharp sensibility is much more akin to writers like Rachel Kushner, Mary Gaitskill, and the pre–Manhattan Beach Jennifer Egan. . . . Normal People is a nuanced and flinty love story about two young people who ‘get’ each other, despite class differences and the interference of their own vigorous personal demons. But honestly, Sally Rooney could write a novel about bath mats and I’d still read it. She’s that good and that singular a writer.”—Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air

“[Rooney] has written two fresh and accessible novels. . . . There is so much to say about Rooney’s fiction—in my experience, when people who’ve read her meet they tend to peel off into corners to talk.”—Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“[Rooney’s] two carefully observed and gentle comedies of manners . . . are tender portraits of Irish college students. . . . Remarkably precise—she captures meticulously the way a generation raised on social data thinks and talks.”—New York Review of Books

Normal People tackles millennial concerns with nineteenth-century wit . . . the millennial generation would no doubt be happy to accept her as its spokesperson were she so inclined.”Elle

“I’m transfixed by the way Rooney works, and I’m hardly the only one . . . like any confident couturier, she’s slicing the free flow of words into the perfect shape. . . . She writes about tricky commonplace things (text messages, sex) with a familiarity no one else has.”The Paris Review

“Funny and intellectually agile . . . [combines] deft social observation—especially of shifts of power between individuals and groups—with acute feeling . . . [Rooney is] a master of the kind of millennial deadpan that appears to skewer a whole life and personality in a sentence or two.”Harper’s Magazine

“Beautifully observed . . . crackles with vivid insight into what it means to be young and in love today.”Esquire

“I went into a tunnel with this book and didn’t want to come out. Absolutely engrossing and surprisingly heart-breaking with more depth, subtlety, and insight than any one novel deserves. Young love is a subject of much scorn, but Rooney understands the cataclysmic effects our youth has on the people we become. She has restored not only love’s dignity, but also its significance.”—Stephanie Danler, author of Sweetbitter

“Masterfully done. The quality of Rooney’s writing, particularly in the psychologically wrought sex scenes, cannot be understated as she brilliantly provides a window into her protagonists’ true selves.”BookPage (starred review)

The New York Times - Dwight Garner

Sally Rooney's sentences are droll, nimble and matter-of-fact. There's nothing particularly special about them, except for the way she throws them. She's like one of those elite magicians who can make a playing card pierce the rind of a watermelon. Rooney employs this artery-nicking style while writing about love and lust among damaged and isolated and yearning young people. They're as lonely as Frank Sinatra on some of his album covers, as lonely as Hank Williams's whip-poor-will. The effect can be entrancing…[Normal People is] fresh and accessible…There is, in the pointed dialogue, a reminder of why we call it a punch line…[Rooney's] an original writer who, you sense, is just getting started.

Publishers Weekly

★ 01/28/2019

Rooney (Conversations with Friends) stuns with her depiction of an on-again off-again relationship between two young adults navigating social pressures. Connell is a popular soccer player at his school in Carricklea, Ireland. He embarks on a secret, mostly sexual relationship with Marianne, the socially isolated and mistreated daughter of the wealthy family Connell’s mom cleans for. Connell’s paranoia about social standing spoils their relationship when he asks another classmate to a school dance. When they connect again as students at Trinity College in Dublin, Marianne has found a stronger voice and a large group of friends while Connell struggles to adapt to college life. A miscommunication scuttles their second attempt at a relationship, and Marianne soon gets involved with a boorish student with sadistic sexual desires. She confides in Connell about her ambivalence toward rough sex, but he fails to act on his strong desire to protect her. Personal crises and dissembling about feelings push the pair alternatively together and apart up to an open-ended but satisfying conclusion. Rooney crafts a devastating story from a series of everyday sorrows by delicately traversing female and male anxieties over sex, class, and popularity. This is a magnificent novel. (Apr.)

Library Journal

★ 02/01/2019

Marianne and Connell attend the same secondary school in Carricklea, a small town in Sligo, Ireland. The popular Connell, captain of the football team and a promising scholar, is the son of a single mother who cleans house for Marianne's mother. Marianne, bullied by her financially well-off family, occupies the lowest rung of the school's social ladder but outshines all of her peers academically. Though they avoid each other in public, Marianne and Connell share an intense emotional bond reinforced by secrecy and sex. Over several years, both will test and undermine this fierce and sometimes disturbing attachment. As the intimacy between Marianne and Connell evolves over time, they seem to identify and embrace varying degrees of self-worth from their powerful regard for each other, which may depend on a mutual acceptance of the social, economic, and emotional inequalities they have at different times embraced and exploited at their own and each other's expense. VERDICT This brilliantly nuanced second novel fulfills the promise evident in the stunning debut, Conversations with Friends, as Rooney once again portrays to dazzling effect intelligent young adults who negotiate social roles and scenarios reinforcing power structures that, for better or worse, define relationships. Marianne and Connell are unforgettable characters, alluring and sympathetic, and Rooney is a formidable talent. A major literary achievement. [See Prepub Alert, 10/15/18.]—John G. Matthews, Washington State Univ. Libs., Pullman

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2019-02-18

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781984822185
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/18/2020
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 534
Product dimensions: 5.16(w) x 7.96(h) x 0.64(d)

Read an Excerpt

January 2011

Marianne answers the door when Connell rings the bell. She’s still wearing her school uniform, but she’s taken off the sweater, so it’s just the blouse and skirt, and she has no shoes on, only tights.

Oh, hey, he says.

Come on in.

She turns and walks down the hall. He follows her, closing the door behind him. Down a few steps in the kitchen, his mother Lorraine is peeling off a pair of rubber gloves. Marianne hops onto the countertop and picks up an open jar of chocolate spread, in which she has left a teaspoon.

Marianne was telling me you got your mock results today, Lorraine says.

We got English back, he says. They come back separately. Do you want to head on?

Lorraine folds the rubber gloves up neatly and replaces them below the sink. Then she starts unclipping her hair. To Connell this seems like something she could accomplish in the car.

And I hear you did very well, she says.

He was top of the class, says Marianne.

Right, Connell says. Marianne did pretty good too. Can we go?

Lorraine pauses in the untying of her apron.

I didn’t realize we were in a rush, she says.

He puts his hands in his pockets and suppresses an irritable sigh, but suppresses it with an audible intake of breath, so that it still sounds like a sigh.

I just have to pop up and take a load out of the dryer, says Lorraine. And then we’ll be off. Okay?

He says nothing, merely hanging his head while Lorraine leaves the room.

Do you want some of this? Marianne says.

She’s holding out the jar of chocolate spread. He presses his hands down slightly further into his pockets, as if trying to store his entire body in his pockets all at once.

No, thanks, he says.

Did you get your French results today?

Yesterday.

He puts his back against the fridge and watches her lick the spoon. In school he and Marianne affect not to know each other. People know that Marianne lives in the white mansion with the driveway and that Connell’s mother is a cleaner, but no one knows of the special relationship between these facts.

I got an A1, he says. What did you get in German?

An A1, she says. Are you bragging?

You’re going to get six hundred, are you?

She shrugs. You probably will, she says.

Well, you’re smarter than me.

Don’t feel bad. I’m smarter than everyone.

Marianne is grinning now. She exercises an open contempt for people in school. She has no friends and spends her lunchtimes alone reading novels. A lot of people really hate her. Her father died when she was thirteen and Connell has heard she has a mental illness now or something. It’s true she is the smartest person in school. He dreads being left alone with her like this, but he also finds himself fantasizing about things he could say to impress her.

You’re not top of the class in English, he points out.

She licks her teeth, unconcerned.

Maybe you should give me grinds, Connell, she says.

He feels his ears get hot. She’s probably just being glib and not suggestive, but if she is being suggestive it’s only to degrade him by association, since she is considered an object of disgust. She wears ugly thick-soled flat shoes and doesn’t put makeup on her face. People have said she doesn’t shave her legs or anything. Connell once heard that she spilled chocolate ice cream on herself in the school lunchroom, and she went to the girls’ bathrooms and took her blouse off to wash it in the sink. That’s a popular story about her, everyone has heard it. If she wanted, she could make a big show of saying hello to Connell in school. See you this afternoon, she could say, in front of everyone. Undoubtedly it would put him in an awkward position, which is the kind of thing she usually seems to enjoy. But she has never done it.

What were you talking to Miss Neary about today? says Marianne. 

Oh. Nothing. I don’t know. Exams.

Marianne twists the spoon around inside the jar.

Does she fancy you or something? Marianne says.

Connell watches her moving the spoon. His ears still feel very hot.

Why do you say that? he says.

God, you’re not having an affair with her, are you?

Obviously not. Do you think it’s funny joking about that? 

Sorry, says Marianne. 

She has a focused expression, like she’s looking through his eyes into the back of his head.

You’re right, it’s not funny, she says. I’m sorry.

He nods, looks around the room for a bit, digs the toe of his shoe into a groove between the tiles.

Sometimes I feel like she does act kind of weird around me, he says. But I wouldn’t say that to people or anything.

Even in class I think she’s very flirtatious toward you.

Do you really think that?

Marianne nods. He rubs at his neck. Miss Neary teaches Economics. His supposed feelings for her are widely discussed in school. Some people are even saying that he tried to add her on Facebook, which he didn’t and would never do. Actually he doesn’t do or say anything to her, he just sits there quietly while she does and says things to him. She keeps him back after class sometimes to talk about his life direction, and once she actually touched the knot of his school tie. He can’t tell people about the way she acts because they’ll think he’s trying to brag about it. In class he feels too embarrassed and annoyed to concentrate on the lesson, he just sits there staring at the textbook until the bar graphs start to blur.

People are always going on at me that I fancy her or whatever, he says. But I actually don’t, at all. I mean, you don’t think I’m playing into it when she acts like that, do you?

Not that I’ve seen.

He wipes his palms down on his school shirt unthinkingly. Everyone is so convinced of his attraction to Miss Neary that sometimes he starts to doubt his own instincts about it. What if, at some level above or below his own perception, he does actually desire her? He doesn’t even really know what desire is supposed to feel like. Any time he has had sex in real life, he has found it so stressful as to be largely unpleasant, leading him to suspect that there’s something wrong with him, that he’s unable to be intimate with women, that he’s somehow developmentally impaired. He lies there afterward and thinks: I hated that so much that I feel sick. Is that just the way he is? Is the nausea he feels when Miss Neary leans over his desk actually his way of experiencing a sexual thrill? How would he know?

I could go to Mr. Lyons for you if you want, says Marianne. I won’t say you told me anything, I’ll just say I noticed it myself.

Jesus, no. Definitely not. Don’t say anything about it to anyone, okay?

Okay, all right.

He looks at her to confirm she’s being serious, and then nods.

It’s not your fault she acts like that with you, says Marianne. You’re not doing anything wrong.

Quietly he says: Why does everyone else think I fancy her, then?

Maybe because you blush a lot when she talks to you. But you know, you blush at everything, you just have that complexion.

He gives a short, unhappy laugh. Thanks, he says.

Well, you do.

Yeah, I’m aware.

You’re blushing now actually, says Marianne.

He closes his eyes, pushes his tongue against the roof of his mouth. He can hear Marianne laughing.

Why do you have to be so harsh on people? he says.

I’m not being harsh. I don’t care if you’re blushing, I won’t tell anyone.

Just because you won’t tell people doesn’t mean you can say whatever you want.

Okay, she says. Sorry.

He turns and looks out the window at the garden. Really the garden is more like “grounds.” It includes a tennis court and a large stone statue in the shape of a woman. He looks out at the “grounds” and moves his face close to the cool breath of the glass. When people tell that story about Marianne washing her blouse in the sink, they act like it’s just funny, but Connell thinks the real purpose of the story is something else. Marianne has never been with anyone in school, no one has ever seen her undressed, no one even knows if she likes boys or girls, she won’t tell anyone. People resent that about her, and Connell thinks that’s why they tell the story, as a way of gawking at something they’re not allowed to see.

I don’t want to get into a fight with you, she says.

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