Tag Archives: sally rooney

NORMAL PEOPLE by Sally Rooney

Normal People by Sally Rooney is enjoying a moment, because not quite two years after its release, it has been adapted into a series on Hulu. With everyone stuck at home in search of new entertainment options, the series has caught on, fueled by strong reviews and word of mouth. I read, and did not particularly like, Rooney’s earlier book Conversations With Friends, but I found the buzz around the TV series hard to resist. And of course, I wanted to read the book before I watched the show, so Normal People was my latest quarantine book.

Why I picked it up: I wanted to watch the TV adaptation, and reviews of the book Normal People were good enough (though definitely mixed) to convince me to give it a try.

Normal People is about two people living in Ireland – Marianne and Connell – who go in and out of each other’s lives from high school into graduate school. Marianne is wealthy and smart but also socially awkward and not well-liked in high school. Connell is not wealthy, but he is popular and smart. Connell’s mother cleans Marianne’s home, so the two often cross paths both at school, where they have classes together, and at Marianne’s house, where Connell comes to pick up his mother. An undeniable physical attraction between the two starts off a relationship that’s on-again, off-again over the course of many years.

In high school, Connell is afraid to go public with his feelings for Marianne, an act of weakness that forms an uneasy foundation for their future. They end up in college together, where their fortunes change: Marianne becomes popular and finds her footing, while Connell feels out of place. They find their way back to each other at different points throughout their years at Trinity, but always seem to implode eventually, due either to lack of communication or the pressure of outside forces like family dysfunction or mental illness.

I ended up really liking Normal People. Unlike Conversations With Friends, where I found the relationships implausible and not compelling, I felt totally invested in Marianne and Connell. Rooney’s strength is her depiction of emotions and the angst that accompanies romantic relationships, especially those among young adults. While keeping Marianne and Connell apart sometimes made for frustrating reading, the scenarios that caused the distance were totally reasonable. I liked Rooney’s writing quite a bit this time and had a really hard time putting the book down! She really nails intimacy and longing, as well as the comfort of finding someone who makes you feel safe.

So Normal People was definitely a departure for me from Rooney’s last book, and I am firmly in the “read it!” camp on this one. I started the Hulu series last night and watched the first episode. So far, I like it! A good book to movie/TV adaptation can be so satisfying.

Normal People was Book #19 of 2020.

CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS by Sally Rooney

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney is about Frances, a 21 year-old in Dublin who has recently broken up with her girlfriend Bobbi and has an affair with an older, married man, Nick, who is half of a couple that Frances and Bobbi befriend when the wife, Melissa, gets interested in Frances and Bobbi’s spoken poetry. That is pretty much all that happens. There is a lot of talking and texting and thinking. Frances and Bobbi fight and make up a few times, and there is drama when Melissa learns of the affair. (Strangely, the foursome continues to socialize even after Melissa finds out, which I had a hard time accepting.) Frances is rather cold, and she communicates with Nick with varying degrees of honesty and candor, depending on how vulnerable she is willing to feel. Nick is weak and insecure despite his good looks, and he can’t make up his mind about what he wants.

I don’t quite get the hubbub over Conversations With Friends. I credit Rooney for her sharp writing and very accurate depiction of emotions, particularly twentysomething emotions when inappropriate relationships are involved. She definitely nailed that. But as a novel, it was disappointing. All that time spent on one relationship between two relatively uncompelling people! I never felt emotionally invested in this story and it took me much longer to read than it should have. I also think Frances and Bobbi acted more like people in their mid- to late 20s, not 21 year-olds.

A good friend of mine really enjoyed Conversations With Friends. I am going to give (not quite) equal time to the opposing viewpoint and include the text she sent me last week when I told her that I wasn’t loving the book: “It’s more of a series of conversations.  Musings than a story. I love the way she captures the mindset of that age woman. And how the male character unfolds. Literally.”

Totally fair. The musings are real and relatable, and some of Frances’ actions and thoughts definitely brought me back to my own 20s. For me, though, the narrowness of the story and self-absorption of the characters held me back from really engaging with it.