Normal People

Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

normal-people

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.

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A Memoir of Chaos and Grace

From the moment Laura Jane Williams mentioned her friend Meg Fee’s book on Instagram, I knew that this book would be a comfort to me. It just came along at the right time.

Places I Stopped on the Way Home: A Memoir of Chaos and Grace – Meg Fee

In Places I Stopped on the Way Home, Meg Fee plots her life in New York City- from falling in love at the Lincoln Centre to escaping the roommate (and bedbugs) from hell on Thompson Street, chasing false promises on 66th Street and the wrong men everywhere to finding true friendships over glasses of wine in Harlem and Greenwich Village.

Weaving together her joys and sorrows, expectations and uncertainties, aspirations and realities, the result is an exhilarating collection of essays about love and friendship, failure and suffering, and above all hope. Join Meg on her heart-wrenching journey, as she cuts the difficult path to finding herself and finding home.

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From megfee.com a watercolour by E. Rhondeau Morgan

Ok, this makes it sound really cheesy. But as I try to make my own way in the world, I am loving this wave of wise young women sharing the lessons they have learned. Made more exciting by the way we think we ‘know’ them from their social media and blogging presence. Also: I don’t know if it’s solely because of Royal Wedding fever but I think there is something of Meghan Markle about the beautiful Meg Fee? No?

Meg lived in New York for 13 years, since she was 18. She met a lot of ‘maybe’ men, she battled an eating disorder, she hated jobs, she lost a friend in that painful way we all seem to have suffered. But she makes every warm cupped latte and cold bitter wind sound beautiful.

Laura Jane Williams, a feminist whirlwind I love to follow on Instagram @superlativelylj was email friends with Meg Fee for several years before they finally met in Paris. They shared the most intimate things across the Atlantic Ocean. I love that. And it gives reminds me of Time to Talk Beauty and I! (Irish Sea… met in Belfast, still!)

“This is a missive to and from the muddled middle.”

Each chapter is a place in New York, the West Village, The A Train, West 10th Street. She plots disappointments and her own mistakes, she doesn’t dwell on work, because it’s not important. I love how she writes. There’s one chapter, ‘On Home’ and she writes ‘And when I call you in hysterics, when I collapse into you undone by something you think small and ridiculous, just the moment before your impulse to fix everything kicks in, give me three words: I hear you.’

Reading between the lines, I don’t think she’s met the man of her dreams just yet, but she’s ok with that. She’s often overwhelmed by how much there is to look forward to. Most of the women I have read, shared, sent the link around to friends recently, the ones writing most truthfully and relatably about love are alone.

Maybe the danger is Meg’s chaos and grace are not as chaotic and a lot more graceful than mine. Briefly I worry that my misadventures and wasted time and indecision are a lot more damaging than hers. But this is not the point.

It’s a book you want to underline and memorise passages from, and I just love that so many women are sharing their favourite lines online. I was crying by the end. There’s a lot of wisdom here. I was annoyed LJW picked out a line in the foreword, ‘I am every man who has hurt me, and the quiet hope that we’ve only got to get it right once.’ Because what a cracker of a line, and I was waiting for it throughout the whole book.

‘The year leading up to my 30th birthday was astonishing. Mostly in it’s ability to wound. It was a year of so many What Ifs and blind curves on unlit roads. A year in which, just as soon as I thought I knew where the story was going, the ground would shift beneath my feet.’

I think anyone who is struggling with their twenties will get something from this book. I have read it twice already. Hold fast to hope, as Meg would say.

What I read: January 2018

This long old month is finally coming to a close. I have written 2017 almost every time I have had to write the year, as usual. Only managed 2.5 books this month, there has been a lot going on! I have really enjoyed them however and would like to share.

Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg

This was started in 2017 and finished at the beginning of the year. I was really enjoying Master of None on Netflix, and remembered someone recommending this about a year ago. I don’t really know what to comment on the recent accusations against Aziz. This is a great investigation by Ansari and the social psychologist Klinenberg. It begins by polling elderly residents in US residential homes about how they met their partner. And so many were from the same block, or same apartment building! And they were so happy. Now that the whole world is open to us through online dating etc, are people still so happy? It’s witty and thought-provoking, and uses a lot of actual data without being boring at all.

The Power- Naomi Alderman

Really fascinating. Women have developed an electric ‘skein’ a power that allows them to hurt and help with electricity from their fingers. That sounds ridiculous, but it is such an eye opener when men are afraid to walk down the street alone…hold on, is that familiar? And what a basement full of enslaved sex workers will do when someone sets them free and gives them power… Some of the personal stories were not completely riveting for me. Although abused Allie who becomes cult leader Mother Eve, like a holy female Mother is truly amazing. This book rewrites history in a way, a fictional female editor recommends that the man writing this particular history publishes his book under a female name to give him more authority. She thinks the image of male soldiers is super sexy because they’re just so unlikely.

Three things About Elsie – Joanna Cannon

Ah, my personal favourite. And not just because it has a Battenberg pattern on the front! I was crying in Cafe Nero today reading over bits to write this.

  1. The fine threads of humanity will connect us all forever.
  2. There is so very much more to anyone than the worst thing they have ever done.
  3. Even the smallest life can leave the loudest echo.

I have read Dr Joanna Cannon’s blog for so many years, shes a psychiatrist who has worked the hospital wards for many years. Her stories are beautiful, and full of care and patience and love. There is at least one beautiful sentence on every page. I remember printing out a blog post she wrote about her mother getting old for my Mother and Aunt. She’s that good!

Florence, an elderly resident at Cherry Tree Home has fallen and she is waiting to be rescued. She goes over the last few weeks, the new resident who is not as he seems, and tries to find a terrible secret from her past in her memories.

It’s a book about loneliness, friendship, kindness and forgiveness. Flo and Elsie are the stars of the book, the friends. I think I figured out one of the things about Elsie early on, but it didn’t take away from the book at all. It’s interesting in this sense how Elsie prompts and helps Florence remember things. They depend on each othter.

Even the secondary characters Miss Ambrose, who is like the manager of Cherry Tree and ‘Handy Simon’ the repair man, I could really relate to their anxiety and worry about their career, and their meaning of life searches and disappointments and hope. I also think its so special that Joanna thinks of these issues, as she is a Psychiatric doctor, surely she doesn’t have these dilemmas?

We walked into the men’s department, and it was coat-hanger quiet.

Jack bought several pairs of socks and a new pullover (which he said would see him out)

Jo’s experience on hospital wards have inspired her, she’s obviously understanding and kind, she can and does teach us about loneliness and caring for each other.

Perhaps the most important moments of all turn out to be the ones we walk through without thinking, the ones we mark down as just another day…we benchmark our lives with birthdays and Christmases and holidays, but perhaps we should think more about the ordinary days. The days that pass by and we don’t even notice. Elsie once said that you can’t tell how big a moment is until you turn back and look at it, and I think, perhaps, that she was right.