Connell and Marianne are classmates in high school. He is cool; she is not. He is popular; she is not. She comes from money, he does not. They both are bright. Despite their many differences, they are drawn to each other. And no matter what happens, they seem to always return to each other. Throughout Normal People, we get glimpses of their lives cycling through periods of coming together and drifting apart.
This book was infuriating. Author Sally Rooney did a phenomenal job (maybe too good of a job) writing characters that are intensely unlikeable yet incredibly compelling. Every misunderstanding, fight, loss, confusion hit in my chest as very, well, normal. The entire book, I just kept yelling “TALK TO EACH OTHER” at the main characters because so much could be fixed and/or avoided if they just engaged in open dialogue. Instead, both Connell and Marianne get stuck in their heads and their own ruminations about themselves or about their relationship to each other or about what they want out of life. Both characters embodied that young-20s feeling that one’s thoughts are the most important in the world and nothing should or could pull one out of them.
The structure of the book was interesting. The entire book is told with time jumps that propel characters into new situations immediately. Then, throughout the chapter, Rooney slowly reveals the events that lead up to the time jump. This structure allowed for the reader to get a greater sense of cause and effect between choices characters made and their eventual outcome. Or, at least, created a sense of cause and effect, maybe where one doesn’t exist. Either way, it was highly effective.