Normal People by Sally Rooney (Faber)

“Marianne amswers the door when Connell rings the bell.”

BY coincidence I heard a radio broadcast where a well known doctor admitted to flunking out of Oxford because of an unhappy love affair and where the plot details do not match we are in the same ballpark, a contemporary teenage-student love affair. For a moment in the opening pages you might think you had picked a copy of the Four Mary’s transferred to the small town of Carricklea in Ireland, but Rooney quickly grows up into her characters as they move from school to Trinity College, Dublin. The normal are the other people, supposedly.

Marianne and Connor are not normal, intelligent, distant, studious. She lives in the big house where his mum is the cleaner, the rather lovely Lorraine. Marianne has no friends, reads books, gets A grades, Connor reads books and plays centre forward for the school team. Rooney herself has a bit more of a crush on Connor and forgives him his moody foibles rather more quickly than she does Marianne who has a dark side apparently, or so we are told, though she does not give much away herself. She is almost without emotion but in its place she has a need for reassurance. It is a small town in Ireland and they keep their feelings to themselves, united in awkwardness and brilliance which lends their conversations a certain crackle beyond the nervous intensity of their friendship. Like Ondaatje’s Warlight it did not make the cut for the short list of the Man Booker 2018, which is a shame. for me both would have been a worthy, popular contenders.

There is a stinging rebuke of literature in universities towards the end: “A lot of literary people in college see books primarily as a way of feeling cultured…culture as class performance, literature fetishized for its ability to take educated people on false emotional journeys…” The Man Booker comes to mind, a subject I will return to next week with an analysis of a book that was not shortlisted last year but which demonstrably has more virtues and depth than the actual winner.

Rooney has a natural, fresh ease with words and story so much that though you probably would not, if you were competitive, want to share a literature class with her because she would surely walk off with the prize for the best Day-in-the-life-of-a-£1-coin prize or whatever fiction titles are in use these days.


About drewsmith28

Words, words, words...
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