Normal People by Sally Rooney

★★★★★ (5/5)

Very rarely you come across prose that engulfs the senses wholly, in a way that you find it near impossible to pull yourself away from the pages on which the words thread across. You are engrossed in the characters, their mesmeric designs, yet worry about the passage of time that goes by you, the Reader. For you shall soon have finished this story, perhaps even moved on to the next one, whilst this prose would remain perennially so, stillsame forever. Have you moved on? Could you ever?

Normal People is one such novel, of immense vivacity, of great push. It gravitates the reader towards their own inner self, towards words unsaid, towards meanings untold. It is poetry in motion, the poetry of life in all its chaos and sensibility.

And the sea-green book cover is exceptionally simple and beautiful. A sardine tin: peopled, huddled, enmeshed.

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

About Connell

  • It feels practically scandalous to be lingering here in solitude. He feels as if everyone around him is disturbed by his presence, and trying not to stare.
  • He understands now that his classmates are not like him. It’s easy for them to have opinions, and to express them with confidence. They don’t worry about appearing ignorant or conceited. They are not stupid people, but they’re not so much smarter than him either. They just move through the world in a different way, and he’ll probably never really understand them, and he knows they will never understand him, or even try.
  • If anything, his personality seemed like something external to himself, managed by the opinions of others, rather than anything he individually did or produced.
  • but it only gave his loneliness a new stubborn quality, like it was planted down inside him and impossible to kill.
  • For him the scholarship is a gigantic material fact, like a vast cruise ship that has sailed into view out of nowhere.
  • Things happened to him, like the crying fits, the panic attacks, but they seemed to descend on him from outside, rather than emanating from somewhere inside himself. Internally he felt nothing. He was like a freezer item that had thawed too quickly on the outside and was melting everywhere, while the inside was still frozen solid.
  • He had read the writer’s collection and found it uneven, but sensitive in places, perceptive. Now, he thought, even that effect was spoiled by seeing the writer in this environment, hemmed off from anything spontaneous, reciting aloud from his own book to an audience who’d already read it. The stiffness of this performance made the observations in the book seem false, separating the writer from the people he wrote about, as if he’d observed them only for the benefit of talking about them
  • Connell couldn’t think of any reason why these literary events took place, what they contributed to anything, what they meant. They were attended only by people who wanted to be the kind of people who attended them.
  • It’s funny the decisions you make because you like someone, he says, and then your whole life is different. I think we’re at that weird age where life can change a lot from small decisions.

About Marianne

  • and after he left she would feel high, nervous, at once energetic and terribly drained.
  • He tells her that she’s beautiful. She has never heard that before, though she has sometimes privately suspected it of herself, but it feels different to hear it from another person.
  • Denise considers this a symptom of her daughter’s frigid and unlovable personality. She believes Marianne lacks ‘warmth’, by which she means the ability to beg for love from people who hate her.
  • She knew that if she wanted to speak, everyone would probably turn around and listen out of sincere interest, and that made her happy too, although she had nothing at all to say.
  • For weeks now she has had this feeling, the feeling of moving around inside a protective film, floating like mercury.
  • The quality of gratification is thin and hard, arriving too quickly and then leaving her sick and shivery.
  • Could he really do the gruesome things he does to her and believe at the same time that he’s acting out of love? Is the world such an evil place, that love should be indistinguishable from the basest and most abusive forms of violence? Outside her breath rises in a fine mist and the snow keeps falling, like a ceaseless repetition of the same infinitesimally small mistake.
  • 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. You learn nothing very profound about yourself simply by being bullied; but by bullying someone else you learn something you can never forget.
  • It gives Marianne a window onto real happiness, though a window she cannot open herself or ever climb through.

Connell on Marianne

  • 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.
  • At times he has the sensation that he and Marianne are like figure-skaters, improvising their discussions so adeptly and in such perfect synchronisation that it surprises them both.
  • For the privacy between himself and Marianne to be invaded by Peggy, or by another person, would destroy something inside him, a part of his selfhood, which doesn’t seem to have a name and which he has never tried to identify before.
  • Marianne is the only one who ever triggers these feelings in him, the strange dissociative feeling, like he’s drowning and time doesn’t exist properly anymore.
  • He couldn’t explain aloud what he finds so absorbing about his emails to Marianne, but he doesn’t feel that it’s trivial. The experience of writing them feels like an expression of a broader and more fundamental principle, something in his identity, or something even more abstract, to do with life itself.
  • He senses a certain receptivity in her expression, like she’s gathering information about his feelings, something they have learned to do to each other over a long time, like speaking a private language.
  • Marianne had a wildness that got into him for a while and made him feel that he was like her, that they had the same unnameable spiritual injury, and that neither of them could ever fit into the world.
  • What would it even mean, to be nothing to her? He could avoid her, but as soon as he saw her again, even if they only glanced at one another outside a lecture hall, the glance could not contain nothing. He could never really want it to.

Marianne on Connell

  • It’s not like this with other people, she says. Yeah, he says. I know. She senses there are things he isn’t saying to her.
  • She feels her shoulder muscles relaxing, like their solitude is a narcotic.
  • She loves to be alone with him like this. It makes her life seem very manageable suddenly.
  • In a series of emails they exchanged recently about their own friendship, Marianne expressed her feelings about Connell mainly in terms of her sustained interest in his opinions and beliefs, the curiosity she feels about his life, and her instinct to survey his thoughts whenever she feels conflicted about anything. He expressed himself more in terms of identification, his sense of rooting for her and suffering with her when she suffers, his ability to perceive and sympathise with her motivations.
  • He probably won’t come back, she thinks. Or he will, differently. What they have now they can never have back again. But for her the pain of loneliness will be nothing to the pain that she used to feel, of being unworthy. He brought her goodness like a gift and now it belongs to her.
  • They’ve done a lot of good for each other. Really, she thinks, really. People can really change one another. You should go, she says. I’ll always be here. You know that.

Beautifully Crafted Sentences

  • It expresses everything all at once, which is the same as expressing nothing.
  • and the silence in the kitchen was loud in her ears, like the white noise of rushing water.
  • Their life in Carricklea, which they had imbued with such drama and significance, just ended like that with no conclusion, and it would never be picked back up again, never in the same way.
  • and asks Joanna if she finds it strange, to be paid for her hours at work – to exchange, in other words, blocks of her extremely limited time on this earth for the human invention known as money.
  • Back outside the cafe now, the sunlight is so strong it crunches all the colours up and makes them sting.
  • The place had that strange unfurnished cleanliness that lonely houses sometimes have. She seemed like a person with no hobbies: no bookcases, no musical instruments.
  • That’s money, the substance that makes the world real. There’s something so corrupt and sexy about it.
  • The sky is a thrilling chlorine-blue, stretched taut and featureless like silk.
  • They continued eating then, as if they were acting out an argument in which both sides were equally compelling, and they had chosen their positions more or less at random, only in order to have the discussion out.
  • Their feelings were suppressed so carefully in everyday life, forced into smaller and smaller spaces, until seemingly minor events took on insane and frightening significance.
  • You lean in expecting resistance, and everything just falls away in front of you.

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