“Normal People” by Sally Rooney is a Magnum Opus

Love, class differences, sex, depression, and college life – this novel is an untypical love story that shows love in a new, unknown spotlight.

Sally Rooney’s 2018 most anticipated release stunned thousands of readers with its new approach to the romance genre. “Normal People” has been complimented by critics, longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and made into a series adaptation. 

Connell, an ambitious and well-adjusted boy, meets Marianne, a proud and reserved girl that “lacks warmth”. They both go to the same school but only start talking to each other when Connell picks his mother up from her job as a housekeeper. Unfortunately, Connell grew up in a poor household, while Marianne’s family comes from an upper-class background. Although the importance of class status plays a huge role in this book, ironically, it is Connell that is revered most in their school, in opposition to Marianne, who is frowned upon by her classmates. (explain further why it is ironic?)

After some conversations, Connell and Marianne start to bond with each other but decide to keep it a secret, in favor of Connell upholding his reputation, which he strived so hard for. 

A year passes and they are both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Their lives turn upside down as Marianne finds her place in the social world and Connell has troubles fitting into college lifestyle. As they grow more mature, Marianne veers into self-destruction and Connell searches for the meaning of life. At this point, each of them must face their longing and dissect their feelings for each other. 

The novel analyses the messy relationship between two young adults made complicated by their social disparities. At its core, it deals with the evolving relationship of two people instead of looking at the characters individually, hence why this story is entirely different from others. Also worth mentioning is that their relationship has a major impact on their character development, implying the characters wouldn’t exist without each other. (suggestion: would exist differently? cuz they would still be there just in another way, wouldn’t they?)

Additionally, it discusses more vital themes like class divides, gender dynamics and debates about capitalism and communism, the benefits of our society or lack thereof. 

Thus, I believe that this short and easy-to-read novel can be seen as a “Magnum Opus” of Sally Rooney’s work. Diving deeper into the novel’s debates one can casually examine profound and complex topics. Even though the title was created only after the content of the book was finished, I think that it brilliantly explores the constant repetitive theme of the desire of belonging to “Normal People”. This is emphasized through the fact that Marianne and Connell do not feel normal but try to be, which makes it relatable for the readers. This shows how we love to distinguish ourselves from other people in either a superior or inferior way, because we will never feel normal in our own skin, and we do not understand that other people do not feel normal either. Marianne, for example, sometimes sees herself as superior and sometimes as inferior while Connell tries to achieve a status of normality and that’s why he becomes anxious, which is emphasized through the quote “I don’t know what’s wrong with me (…) I don’t know why I can’t be like normal people”. (maybe split the long sentence into shorter ones) But in the end, every single one of them is normal and nothing exceptional happens to them. Thus, the novel questions normality and asks the audience whether there is no normality, or whether everyone is normal. 

Another reason why I find “Normal People” a great piece of work is because it shows that a story that deals with teenagers and sex does not need to be sad in order to be profound and meaningful. “Normal people” focuses a lot on awkward teenage-like conversations and silly things while still managing to hide a deeper discussion within the story. It opens new doors for such types of pieces, which have never been addressed properly thus far.

After all this praise I must mention that this book is not for everyone. As already highlighted throughout the review, this book does not depict a healthy relationship. It is centered around misunderstandings and awful decisions a flawed human would make. 

Furthermore, the writing lacks quotation marks, which makes the dialogues harder to set apart. Not to mention the constant backshift of the timeline after every chapter, which might intimidate some readers. 

Still, I must compliment Sally Rooney for the fact that she indeed executed the above-listed points well. 

To be fair, at the start the writing confused and frightened me, it was the first Sally Rooney novel I read and quite frankly, at first, I despised it. I didn’t like the characters, I found them annoying and their decisions dumb. Only after further research I realized that that was the point of the book and I ended up loving it. 

Katarzyna Lubas