The Normalization of Humanity – Normal People by Sally Rooney

((Review originally published October 12, 2020))

We spend a lot of our lives weaving in and out of each other’s lives without a second thought or glance backward. We’re on a journey. We’re constantly seeking something that we don’t quite understand. A sort of acceptance of ourselves that we rarely get from other people. Even less from ourselves. The desperation in that search blinds us, isolates us, and often makes horrible decisions for us. All of this is because we are searching so hard. Sometimes the desperation is so real, we don’t notice that our journey’s end is right in front of us. That our acceptance is right there. But, maybe it’s because we just aren’t ready for it.

((This is a review of the Book, not the Hulu Original Show))


I hadn’t heard of this book until it was put on my store’s “Book of the Month” and the idea was to pick one and recommend it to people so that it can sell. Being who I am, I can’t in good conscious try to push a book that I know absolutely nothing about. So I picked one that matched my checklist of an interesting premise and was short enough to get through in a timely manner. So, I ended up with Normal People. I was not prepared and neither are you!

Normal People tells the story of two ordinary people named Marianne and Connell. Even their names are super plain. They live in a small town where everyone is young, dumb, and horny, but most of all everyone is in everyone’s business.

Thus, you have eccentric and socially isolated Marianne, who breaks so many of the rich girl tropes of being “pretty and popular” by just being shunned. She is an outsider who is socially awkward and considered everything between stuck up and weird. There’s not much positive in between. Then there’s the reserved-to-a-fault wedlock child Connell who is surprisingly well-liked, but lives his life believing he has to walk the thin line between acceptance and ostracization. He lives in a state of internal anxiety over being judged while Marianne lives in a state of anxiety about never being loved. And thus, they discover each other and hurt each other. It becomes the most frustrating game of “will they, won’t they”, a game of “I hate you but I can never stop loving you.”, and a game of “All the things I never said…”

And so, we explore the playbook of Marianne and Connell, an intimate playbook of life.

Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones play Connell and Marianne, the two closely bonded characters at the center of Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People.

I’ve never met two people who frustrated me more simply because they are me. Normal People broke me on a subconscious level in only 278 pages. But to start, this is not a New Adult (whatever that means for you) or a YA. Like definitely not. It’s something that highlights the complexities and toxicity of our day-to-day interactions and assumptions, and further, how they shape who we are as people – as adults. The amount of self-discovery puts much of my own life into perspective and how maturity and wisdom come with age and experience.

With Marianne and Connell being so clumsy with each other yet obviously perfect for each other, it gets to the point of wanting to murder both of them. However, it gives a deeper understanding of why they don’t know what to do with each other, and it’s because they don’t know what to do with themselves. They are the result of too much pressure, too little validation, and no acceptance of who they are. Even though we the reader can say “oh my god, work it out already” or “just fucking talk to each other”, we are able to recognize our greatest flaws right down to the words becoming caught in our throats. Normal People begins and ends with a song about life, interaction, and communication.

I am so happy I was able to absorb this simple work of fiction. Never before have I felt myself and my never-ending journey toward the elusiveness of adulthood so fully represented. It was easy to find that you are not alone, but also to compartmentalize the frustration you often feel with yourself and with other people. It reminded me that even when I’m worrying too much about the wrong thing or claiming I’m fully there for someone and love them, I am very much guilty of not listening, not hearing the cries for help from others because I’m too deep in my own head. Even worse when I am frustrated by my own cries not being heard, despite the fact that I don’t always say them out loud…

Normal People refuses to be an ordinary romance nor an over-exaggerated piece of life and suffering. It refuses to be a meet-cute in which the “will they won’t they” is caused and supplemented by a barrage of foolish, tropic misunderstandings. All of their issues, all of their miscommunications are internal! Internal and very real things that most often blind us to what’s right in front of us. But, when we are able to come out of our own heads and clearly look at the world the way it actually is, not the way we fear it is, our journey ends and we find exactly what we’ve been looking for. Normal People is very much about normalizing people because at the end of it all, we are only that.

Much like Mary H.K. Choi, Rooney is very talented at saying so much in very few and very simple words. She doesn’t use quotation marks, which started out jarring for me and took a bit to get used to. However, once I found my footing it was like lightning. This book can be read in a matter of hours if you’re the type who runs through novels like a field of poppies. I am a slow reader who makes a lot of notes and absorbs slowly so it took me about four days between work and other projects. So definitely a quick read. But the important thing is how much of the writing is contextual. You cannot, I repeat, cannot skim this book. Gaining an appreciation of the nuances and depth hidden between the lines is something that can’t be rushed through nor achieved by skipping to dialogue only. Of course the no quotations format made sure you couldn’t. But the very real beauty of Rooney’s writing is not in her prose but in the subtle character interactions with society and each other. She creates a quiet place when portraying Connell and Marianne compared to others. Within the scarcity, or rather, the bareness of their conversation lies an intimacy that is uncluttered by description. However, when they’re with others, when they have to confront themselves with others, Ronney is able to accurately portray the cacophony that ensues between the status quo and the “othered” by just portraying the conversation and actions and reactions. It becomes a certain type of voyeurism if you will. This insight is that by her use of words and implication, you are seeing the destruction and reconstruction of Connell and Marianne as though Rooney is spying on the lives of real people and can’t look away. Even more so, she is holding up a mirror and you are having to watch the very best and very worst parts of yourself playing out through two people you’ve never met.

Now there are some moments where there is a language barrier as I am American and this is set wholly in Ireland and written by an Irishwoman. However, they do not take you out of the story in the slightest. In fact, it makes the immersion deeper. The noting of the dates aided in immersion for me because I was able to relate fully to the time period. Rocking their early 20s through 2010s landscape allowed me to identify much more with their mindset. Rooney writes for the working adult, the starving student, and the forever lost teenager that is turning 25-30 who still can’t figure out themselves and that is perfectly normal

Normal People is one of those novels that, honestly, I feel was made specifically for me. That I was the target audience and thus was given the good grace and good fortune to read it. It was a surprising and unexpected piece of life that brought me eagerly from my reading slump and was a wonderful palate cleanser after the debacle that was American Dirt. Rooney grounded me and reminded me why I continued to do what I do. Why I continue to delve into social interaction the same way I dive into books even though I am disappointed more often than not. Because like Normal People, I stumble across people, conversations, and interactions that normalize my otherness. That normalizes me… That’s what this book is for. It’s normalizing our flaws and allowing us to grow from them to become just people.

-Stay Well-Read-

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