Cannonball Bingo – “Adaptation” (see below)
Normal People (2016) by Sally Rooney has been on a number of lists, so I’d been aware of it for some time. However, some reviews had me wondering if I would enjoy it. Sometimes books are very well written but no fun to read. It wasn’t until Obama recommended Normal People as one of his favorite books of 2019 that I decided I needed to read it. And it also works for Cannonball Bingo! I am using Normal People to fill the “Adaptation” square because Hulu apparently turned this novel into a series. I don’t have Hulu, so if any one has seen it and has thoughts, I’d be happy to hear them.
The book begins with Connell and Marianne, two high school students growing up in a small town in Ireland. Connell is smart, popular, and athletic. His single mother barely makes ends meet by cleaning his classmate, Marianne’s, house. Marianne is rich and smart, but odd. Her cliquey classmates do not understand her and treat her pretty badly. But Connell and Marianne spend time together when he comes to her house to pick up his mother. Eventually they begin something of a relationship. But because of the pressures and insecurities of youth, Connell ends up hurting Marianne and the two part ways.
The two go on to college where their positions are reversed. Now Marianne is in a place where she naturally fits in with the wealthier and worldlier college population while Connell is cowed by the intelligence and money surrounding him. Yet Marianne doesn’t hold a grudge, treating him much better than he had treated her. Once again, they find themselves together. But something is always getting in the way. Connell is disturbed by their differences in wealth and allows that to become a wall between them. Marianne is often hurt by Connell pulling away from her. The two have other relationships and constant issues that stem from their childhood. But they are good for each other and stay close through it all.
I thought this book was very well written. It was sometimes disturbing, but the characters felt like real, flawed human beings. I was drawn in early on in the book with Marianne’s experiences in high school. The cliques felt so real and so cruel, I had an immediate, visceral reaction. And then Connell’s reaction was heartbreaking. You can feel him wanting to be good, but too afraid of the social power around him to do the right thing.
Both Marianne and Connell are complex people with complex problems. I thought Rooney did a remarkable job in creating and displaying these characters with such originality. It is true that this book was sometimes difficult to read, and I sometimes couldn’t relate to Marianne’s choices. However, I’m glad I finally read this one, and I’d recommend it to others.
“From her vantage point it is not obvious what rewards the [social] ladder provides, even to those who really are at the top.” (31)
“Connell wished he knew how other people conducted their private lives, so that he could copy from example.” (50)
“That’s money, the substance that makes the world real.” (165)
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me, says Marianne. I don’t know why I can’t be like normal people.” (187)
“Would every stage of her life continue to reveal itself as the same thing, again and again, the same remorseless contest for dominance?” (198)
“He had just wanted to be normal, to conceal the parts of himself that he found shameful and confusing.” (219)
“I’m used to it, she says. I’ve been lonely my whole life, really.” (237)
“People have forgotten about her. She’s a normal person now.” (261)
You can find all of my reviews on my blog.