'Boy meets girl' disrupted in a modern romance
Sally Rooney’s Man Booker nominated novel is a modern romance set largely in Dublin but beginning near Sligo with two teenagers, Connell and Marianne. The two get to know one another as Connell’s mum works as a cleaner in the mansion where Marianne lives with her distant mother and abusive brother. The pair form a secret relationship bound together by the discovery of sex.
Connell is smart, perceptive and firmly a part of the in-crowd whilst Marianne exists awkwardly on the fringes. The pair hardly acknowledge one another at school let alone admit to their relationship.
Later the pair both move to Trinity College in Dublin to study. Though Marianne is his constant, their relationship becomes increasingly on and off again as they navigate a new and uncertain social scene. This is where Rooney’s writing is at its most poignant capturing the everyday insecurities and self-doubt that many experience. For Connell the uncertainty of modern love is more pronounced as he struggles to fit in with the college social scene and finds relationships, with anyone other than Marianne, empty and wanting.
Amongst the many salient themes that Sally Rooney raises in the novel are mental health and social mobility but most successfully she captures Connell’s coming of age from determined and confident teenager in Sligo to hesitant and insecure student at Trinity College. In this respect the novel is as much bildungsroman as literary fiction.
Normal People is an effortless read in which the boy meets girl trope is disrupted for a world in which the boundaries of friendship and romance are blurred.
Normal People by Sally Rooney published by Faber and Faber, 288 pages