I read Rooney’s “Normal People” a couple of months ago and it is, easily, one of the best books that I have read this year. I wish, however, that I had read this book BEFORE I read “Normal People.” In a lot of ways, this debut reads like a practice run for her second book.
Frances and Bobbi, once lovers, have settled into a very close friendship while at college in Dublin. When a writer/photographer, Melissa, wants to do a piece about their spoken word poetry shows, Frances and Bobbi begin socializing with her and her actor husband Nick. A decade younger than the couple and their friends, the young women are drawn into their world of literary events, dinner parties and summer getaways in France.
Trying on the different mantles of adulthood while in the somewhat cushy environment of college, Frances and Bobbi play at being part of this “grown up” world of marriage, mortgages and expensive wine. Eventually these new friendships begin to crack open the fissures in their existing relationships.
While I did still appreciate her writing style and the raw and frank way that Rooney portrays her characters, these characters didn’t feel quite as completely honest as Marianne and Connell (Normal People). Bobbie and Frances weren’t as layered and rich. Instead of being complicated and compelling, the characters often felt willfully ignorant and self indulgent.
Thematically both books circle around the idea of miscommunication. How we think others perceive us versus what we really present. How we misinterpret one another or try to force our own interpretations of who they are and what they feel. I guess my problem with it was that I knew what I was missing. I knew what Rooney was capable of and she hadn’t pushed to that point yet in this novel. She was definitely beginning to flex her muscles here, but skims the surface with one toe in the water.