why we fell in love with normal people
Updated: Jan 1
It wasn't until the release of the BBC adaptation of the best selling novel appeared, that I first heard the buzz about Sally Rooney's Normal People. It was presented to me as a gift for millennials - a statement that put me off immediately. I don't know what it is I don't like about boxing literature into these strange little generational nicknames, perhaps it's more about all the stick millennials get, either way - I let Normal People flutter past me for weeks, despite rave reviews.
Eventually, the book found a mention in one of the many 'book-tube' rundowns I've watched over lockdown and was finally met with disappointment. It was that shock of stumbling across a less than enthusiastic review that challenged me to read Normal People. So - one-hundred days into lockdown - I found myself staring at the novel in my empty local bookshop (wearing a mask, obvs), picking it up and buying it without even reading the blurb.
A day and a half and I had devoured Rooney's story from start to finish. In between breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a dog walk, I was all over those pages; my eyes stuck to Rooney's words like Marianne's to Connell's dick pics. I found myself going full millennial stereotype- taking photos of certain passages, sending them to the group chat at every false turn Marianne took.
Surely anyone who's had one can relate to the confusion, exaggeration and almost unbearable sadness of navigating first love, but beyond that, I related to the characters as individuals. Marianne's brash outbursts, forward compliments, and deep-rooted complications with self-worth. Connell's struggle with identity and his journey from big-fish-small-pond to little-fish-huge-pond. Of course, that leads me to acknowledge - would I find so much intrigue in these characters if I didn't see so much of myself in amongst the pages? I'd hope I'm not so self-absorbed, but maybe not. Perhaps the beauty in Connell and Marianne, is that their vulnerabilities and faults are all things we might possess ourselves, but would never admit to or possibly even recognise, until they're staring us in the face in the form of two lovable rogues.
Rooney has allowed two people who are undeniably wrapped up in wealth divides, bumps in mental health and a developing sense of self, to simply exist. She allows them to make mistakes, take wrong turns, and at times, become incredibly frustrating and potentially unlikeable. They are characters invented not to please, but to indulge in. After reading on the book, as I now reflect, I notice Rooney didn't ever rely on making us cry as a method of falling in love or empathising with Connell and Marianne, which is my favourite thing about her writing. They (Connell in particular) often go through life with an uncomfortable emotional 'flatness'; giving us the most realistic representation of depression we could experience.
Overall, Rooney's ability to provide such a tumultuous yet charming relationship has led me to listen to many an interview, podcast and article about the young writer; and fuelled me with the hope that people are reading her books not just to seem cool on Instagram, but to be carried away with the realistic sense, and pain, of longing she gifts to us. Next stop: BBC iPlayer.