Normal People – Sally Rooney

There’s something so debilitating to view the world in such a raw manner, where all the rose coloured glasses fall away and all that we are acknowledging is the building blocks and inherent struggle.  

“Marianne wanted her life to mean something then, she wanted to stop all violence committed by the strong against the weak, and she remembered a time several years ago when she had felt so intelligent and young and powerful that she almost could have achieved such a thing, and now she knew she wasn’t at all powerful, and she would live and die in a world of extreme violence against the innocent, and at most she could only help a few people. It was so much harder to reconcile herself to the idea of helping a few, like she would rather help no one than do something so small and feeble” 

The reading of this book comes at an odd/momentous time for me, depends on how you view it. Amidst the systemic breakdown of the country I live in and world we live in, amidst heightened gender politics in cinema, the erasure of history when it comes to icons – society in general, feels rather hopeless. To have read this book in that head space, to wonder what it means to not live but survive this society is a particularly unsavoury thought. 

Generally I find men are a lot more concerned with limiting the freedoms of women than exercising personal freedom for themselves.” 

It’s unsavoury because not only are my experiences of surviving the society important, but they are bridges that band many women together. It feels pointless to talk about this book without taking into consideration our personal struggles. A lot of the time, we either bury these survival stories for a chance to be “normal”, or we don’t even see what is abnormal about it for long enough to reason the many ways in which injustice is being meted out. 

This book deals with class disparity, gender disparity, emotional and physical abuse. Marianne and Connell’s intersecting paths over years as young adults, college students and adults fumbling the “real” world while being in love with each other, in one way or another becomes the stronger foundation that the book relies on to tell all the other voices and stories borne out of their world.  

Sally Rooney juxtaposes Marianne’s disinterest in employment or anything that does not serve her soul, which is borne both due to the 2000s Irish economic downturn and her inherent social privilege to that of Connell’s frantic search to survive while experimenting academically with literature as he does not see education leading to employment – in some ways leading to a freedom of choice is aware to all its nuances.  

“It’s time you’ll never get back, Marianne adds. I mean, the time is real. The money is also real. Well, but the time is more real. Time consists of physics, money is just a social construct.” 

Sally Rooney even manages to spin the dreary in such a matter of fact manner, that you almost feel like the characters vanish, since their logic, choices, emotions could be as much yours as it is theirs. 

If Marianne feels unknown or foreign to you as a reader, it renders as a sign to start looking closely at the world around you, because as a woman, the world I exist in, has Marianne’s and many variations of Marianne’s in it. The despair, hope, self-doubt, loathing, fragility and strength seem so familiar. Pick up this book so you can gauge what are the stories being reflected back to you in reality as you read through the pages.  

“Could he really do the gruesome things he does to her and believe at the same time that he’s acting out of love? Is the world such an evil place, that love should be indistinguishable from the basest and most abusive forms of violence?”