The Enduring Appeal Of ‘Normal People’ & What I’m Reading Next
I’m not usually someone to re-read a good book.
Mostly because reading is still like running for me. It requires a level of fitness I wasn’t God-given and therefore to run up the same hill more than once just feels like an unnecessary ordeal. Of course, there are books I actively cannot read again even if I wanted to – like Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life – because they stretch you in a way that is so uncomfortable and confronting that one year later it still feels like a scab at risk of being picked. I held my breath for the last ten pages of A Little Life. It was a marathon. And, like I said, I’m not a runner.
But then there are those rare novels which I find myself wanting to re-visit, if for no other purpose than to try and recapture the way it felt the first time. Like Sally Rooney’s Normal People. Long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2018, Normal People follows the mutual fascination, friendship and love of Marianne and Connell, a young couple living in Ireland, from their school days to early adulthood. It explores topics like sex and anxiety as they exist for young adults, at times graphically and always delicately. Where Marianne is skinny, nervous, clever and wealthy, Connell is handsome, withdrawn, popular and poor. The brilliance of Rooney’s work is that nothing much happens in Normal People outside of the mundanity we experience in our own lives, and so instead the addictive nature of the book is born out of the characters’ inner worlds. Their internal dialogue. Imaginations. The books they read and concerns they have. The signals they mis-interpret or miss entirely. As a reader, you’ll find Marianne and Connell frustrating and annoying. They both make inherently bad decisions. Which is likely where the title of the book finds its meaning because it’s through their flaws that we relate to them best. Normal People is, no matter how many times I’ve read it, addictive and witty and devastating.
Now that I’ve finished my encore of that, I’m reading Expectation by Anna Hope. It’s about three best friends in East London – Hannah, Cate and Lissa – grappling with the tension that exists between expectation and reality: the dreams and desires we had for our future (specifically our 30s) and the inevitable disappointment when we finally arrive and it looks nothing like we imagined. And next week I’m picking up Emma Janes Unsworth’s latest novel and Sunday Times bestseller Adults, which I ordered through my local bookstore. I saw so many people praising it on Twitter when it was published in the UK last month. Dolly Alderton called it, “My favourite read of last year. Gut-wrenchingly confronting, hysterically funny, a poetic and polemic take on modern anxieties.” Sold.