Normal People

Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney


People know that Marianne lives in the white mansion with the driveway and that Connell’s mother is a cleaner, but no one knows of the special relationship between these two facts.

Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds.

When they both earn places at Trinity College in Dublin, a connection that has grown between them lasts long into the following years.

This is an exquisite love story about how a person can change another person’s life – a simple yet profound realisation that unfolds beautifully over the course of the novel.

It tells us how difficult it is to talk about how we feel and it tells us – blazingly – about cycles of domination, legitimacy and privilege.

Alternating menace with overwhelming tenderness, Sally Rooney’s second novel breathes fiction with new life.

I feel compelled to tell you how much I loved this book. It’s the book that has most gotten me to sit up and take notice this year. And it punched me right in the gut over and over. In the best way, it’s about two small lives, and how they intertwine, but told with such accuracy, such deep observation and description of how confusing emotions are felt. Misunderstanding, longing, belonging together or not. Wow. I found the writing a total gift. Did I say how jealous I am that Sally Rooney is only 27? She was born in 1991. This is her second bestseller, I read the first, Conversations with Friends recently and became aware of just how talented a writer she is. It’s definitely worth reading too. And there are only 18 months between the two books.

The writing is bracing and bare, the scenes and suffering are visceral and emotional. I’ve never been male, and neither has Sally, but some of the most emotional moments of the novel for me was Connell trying to navigate his feelings. A description of his experience at a funeral, and more specifically an interaction with his mother Lorriane whilst there had me shedding tears on the 212 bus to Belfast. Men’s mental health is suffering in this country and Rooney seems to underline this and get into the male psyche. It’s amazing.

Julie Myerson writes so much better than me in the Guardian:

But it’s Connell who’s the stunning creation, achingly convincing in his maleness and his struggle to understand, and find an outlet for, his feelings. Intelligent, vulnerable and hopelessly incoherent, he is, in many ways, as fatally constrained by his own gender as Marianne seems, to some extent anyway, to be freed by hers.

Connell loves Marianne but does not know how to be with her, can’t own up to his emotions, can’t give her what she needs – but neither can he exist without her. Safely ensconced with a new, dull girlfriend who makes him feel more uncomplicatedly happy (or so he tells himself), he sends ever more lengthy emails to Marianne. On one pungently observed occasion, he dreams up a good phrase and gets ready to write to her “only to remember that he can’t email her when she’s downstairs”.

In the same token, the feminist themes are strong. Small almost imperceptible lines like ‘she wanted to have sex so they did’ and Connell’s patience and seeking consent was noticeable. There’s plenty of sex, and often that can put me off in writing, but in Normal People it’s written fairly and without eroticism, but the intensity of the experience is there, and the patterns and themes become apparent. ‘It’s emotionally and sexually admirably frank’ as Myerson says.

I enjoyed this RTE interview with Sean Rocks and Sally Rooney.

Also this New Statesman Review by Olivia Laing. As well as the Julie Myerson Guardian one linked above. I’m struggling with my words about this Man Booker Long listed book.

A fresh and wonderful angle and view of love, at times devastating, confusing, wounding and damaging, not much sweetness here but deep communications, safety, familiarity, desire… oh so much. I simply can’t do it justice. It’s a truly beautiful novel. I’m aware now that I haven’t given you any examples of Rooney’s actual writing. The descriptions are pure and the dialogue is stripped back and to the point. But maybe it’s better if you read it yourself.

Thoughts on Connection

Wanting to blog and feeling tired and flat, I looked in my Drafts folder and found this, which I wrote on the 26 June this year:

Recently I have been laying low. Really questioning my life, but not coming up with any answers yet. I know that the trick is to be hopeful and positive and ‘look up,’ It can be easier said than done and I am grumpy with my family, distant with friends, going for more solo coffees than ever before…

But still I’m craving little connections. Each birthday card I received this year made me cry. I’m texting my farthest away friends a lot more. I have some new internet friends. I’m applying for a ton of jobs. I went to Belfast to visit my aunties and have a job interview and I ended up hanging out with both my siblings who live there.

I am someone who really thrives on connection, I would say we all do, but it’s good to realise it sometimes. I love snail mail, I love/hate social media, I like WhatsApp. Maybe it’s the 9 plus years of customer service roles but I like to chat with the work coach lady about her son’s degree, and the massage therapist about Donegal, and random people about too-personal things, really.

Little connections can make a day: a smile, a thank you, a hug. It works both ways.

I liked it so I will build on it. Things that have changed: I am no longer applying for jobs because I am employed! I am Employment Mentoring Officer (An EMO!) at the Women’s Centre in my home town. It’s a ‘big girl’ job, and one where I’m surrounded by interesting, good like-minded women in the team, helping women return to work, and to fit with the theme of this post, connecting with a real cross-section of fascinating and amazing women. It just really seems to fit where I am in life at the moment. Everyone has been so welcoming, I’m 3 weeks in and it’s still a bit scary and I’m learning everyday, but I think I’m settling in.

There are fewer things I won’t do because I am embarrassed. This is where I am in life: I am rebuilding. It’s certainly painful and one really wonders what it’s all about sometimes. Still going for those solo coffee trips, still being grumpy to my family. I haven’t been to a bar in months. It’s not my scene at the moment, and that’s ok.

Letters have been a bit out of reach lately, maybe a bit too personal? I hope to get back to writing my beloved snail mail soon. I recently watched a few good films on Netflix, and enjoyed recommending them to the appropriate friends. I’m looking forward to my cousin cutting my hair next week so we can have a little catch up. I booked my first day off so that I can go to a book event, and hear Kit de Waal talk about her newest book ‘The Trick to Time’ in Belfast. Connect with an amazing author. Maybe find a friend to have more coffee with while I’m there.

Sometimes, for a lover of words, I am lost for words, I can’t explain or emotions get in the way. But the important thing is to keep trying. To be honest and if it’s really important, make the connection. Little silver strands of connecting brighten and strengthen our lives, bind us and empower us to keep going.

As Season 10 Sashays Away

I have thoughts about RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 10 finale. Don’t we all? Do we? Anyway I will get back to THAT final.

I first watched RPDR three-ish years ago, shortly after a whispered discussion about perceived gender in The Thinking Cup, a very lovely café in Belfast, with Abbye, when Abbye somehow sheepishly admitted to watching it and recommended it to me. (Coincidentally, we then went on such a funny Segway tour with a dodgy man in Craigavon, went to a near-rave that night, and I spent the next day throwing up. Different story) Reality TV is not usually my thing, I’m stubbornly refusing to watch Love Island, but season 2 onward was on Netflix, and the rest was her-story.

RuPaul’s Drag Race for those who don’t know, is similar in format to America’s Next Top Model. But RuPaul wants to crown America’s Next Drag Superstar. 12 queens are chosen from thousands, enter the work room, do mini and maxi challenges each week, ‘slay’ looks and ‘turn it out.’ Generally one Drag Queen is eliminated every week, after the bottom two queens ‘lipsync for their lives.’

But, it is the most entertaining show in the world. First of all, I am fascinated how these gay men (always gay, as far as I have seen) often manly, sometimes not, transforming themselves into the most beautiful queens. Like, they are so much more beautiful than me! And I’m a real woman. My only drag Queen connotations were of square jawed men in wigs, something comical, not REALLY giving the allusion of femininity. I think I have a real interest in gender, and society’s relationship to it. This really is a beautiful experiment with/ representation of gender.

RuPaul calls the contestants his girls, and always by their stage name even when they are dressed in their usual me’s clothes in in the work room. They call each other GURL and bitch, and refer to RuPaul as Mama Ru. Fascinating.

Also, the catchphrases are to die for, hunty.

RuPaul Andre Charles, 57 is an amazing figure. Original Supermodel of the World (1993-1997) American Drag Queen, actor, model, singer, songwriter and author. Since 2009 he has created and hosted RuPaul’s Drag Race. He’s a very smart business man. I notice things like, at the end of every episode, after the losing contestant has ‘sashayed away’ the remaining queens are invited to dance briefly to whatever Ru’s newest single is. They use the same track throughout each new season. He is like the oracle, the viewer always agrees with his critiques and decisions, and although he has fellow judges, the final decision is always his, or hers! to make.

There’s so much humanity. There’s been heartbreaking confessions onstage, but mostly heartfelt discussions in the work room, when the queens are preparing for the runway, candid admissions while pritt-sticking their eyebrows (!) and contouring their unique and colourful faces. There are tears and feelings. It’s laugh out loud funny, impressive and thoughtful. Sometimes it’s dramatic-emotional but it’s all good. It’s a celebration of being different and expressing yourself. RuPaul is really doing his part for LGBT+ inclusivity and equality.

My sister laughs at me watching, gasping at ‘the shade of it all’ the mesmerising lip syncs and the judge’s critiques. There are so many good traditions:

  • Lip sync for your life!
  • Snatch Game
  • Reading is Fundamental/The Library is Open
  • Everyone loves puppets
  • Lipstick mirror goodbyes

After watching in horror at Trump winning the election, comedian John Oliver said “I watched 5 back-to-back episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race. It was the version of America that I wanted to live in, rather than the one that was unfolding in history.”

Anyway, now finally for the ***SEASON 10 FINAL SPOILERS*** look away if you have avoided them so far.

Just between us squirrel friends, what do you think?

I had the feeling Aquaria was going to win. She’s very talented and very confident. She was even quite likeable in the end up. I really didn’t want Eureka to win, she’s just so different of a person to me, and I can’t relate to her. Also, although a big introvert myself, there was something about Kameron that didn’t sit right with me as we neared the end of the season. There’s introverted and there’s rude, sometimes.

But Asia O’Hara! I really liked this older, talented Queen and her kindness and standing up for weaker contestants, or misunderstood queen’s was very impressive. She almost ruined her chances early on by spending too much time helping the other contestants. She is wise and so likeable. She was really funny too. I voted for her on twitter (first time I have been able to as Netflix is uploading episodes weekly now!) but she had a huge disappointment.

From Butter face to Butterfly gate. Oh Asia! Releasing live butterflies from your huge pretend bosoms under those stage lights while dancing frantically. She said she sought expert advice for months… I don’t know how anyone thought that was a good idea. It also makes me sad that all this year’s finalists were desperately trying to match Sasha Velour’s amazing rose petal reveal from last year’s final. Eureka had 3 mad outfits one under the other. 3. Also even Aquaria maybe won because of her firework and confetti bursts. It shouldn’t be about the reveals and props. And Asia suffered. (The butterflies didn’t fly… she was panicking on stage) And she was accused of cruelty to animals/insects? I felt so sorry for her! I think Kameron and Aquaria did the best lip syncs.

Thanks for reading as I basically man-splained RuPaul’s Drag Race. I really love it and all it stands for.

And remember, if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?

Can I get an Amen up in here?

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