Over the span of a few years we follow classmates Connell and Marianne. At school he is popular and seemingly outgoing while she is a loner who is often made fun of. What connects them is Connell’s mother, who works as a cleaner at Marianne’s house. There they get to know each other a little before starting a sexual relationship, one they keep secret from their schoolmates. Later they both end up at the same university but here Marianne seems to thrive while Connell loses his way. Theirs is an on-off, intense relationship. They are good friends and love each other but can’t seem to stay on the same page.
The book itself is kind of plotless. It’s almost entirely character driven which people will either love or hate. I am closer to the latter camp, alas, although I didn’t straight out hate it. I really enjoyed the beginning when they were in school and was interested in their story, but then it starts to feel relentless and bleak. She keeps making bad choices with men and feeling bad and it’s hard to read.
Part of my issue is I don’t really get Marianne. I related to her a lot in the beginning, having had a similar-ish secretive relationship and other family dynamics. I liked that she didn’t seem to care what people thought of her. Except that she did? Her whole character arc is based around her (bad) relationships with men and outside of that I didn’t really know anything about her. Oh sure she’s into politics…I guess? She’s supposedly smart since she gets that scholarship, but what does she want to do? She goes home even though it’s a toxic environment and seems to have no impulse to live on her own or earn a living or get any kind of job at all. Why? Because she’s from money? Or because she’s so ‘damaged’? Is it that basic? She just seems to apathetic. I think this is another one of those times where my own history makes it hard for me to be sympathetic to a character, especially one who seems to let life just happen to her. She has the means to have a better life and (it seems to me anyway) chooses not to, instead making the same mistakes over and over. It becomes tiresome to read.
And then she does distance herself from her family and get a job but it’s still left as if her world revolves around Connell and nothing else. He gets to have wants and passions outside of her but she doesn’t get the same? I liked Connell a bit more but then I think he’s a bit more fleshed out and easier to understand, even if he also does incredibly irritating things.
I also didn’t love the writing style. I’m not a fan of the no dialogue separation and never have been. It adds a layer of unnecessary confusion for me at times that pulls me out of my reading. The writing is sparse and full of minutiae at the same time: she stands up and puts the kettle on and gets the milk from the fridge. She grabs the teabags from the shelf and puts two sugars in a mug. She takes a sip.
That kind of thing. I don’t love it.
I think this is probably a good book that is just really not for me.