As important is the way in which reading changes Connell as a human being: the effect of reading Jane Austen’s Emma on him is “not completely asexual, though its relation to sexuality is indirect. It suggests to Connell that the same imagination he uses as a reader is necessary to understand real people also, and to be more intimate with them.” There are no weak sentences in Normal People and this perfection makes demands on a reader: you are required to concentrate on each word.
Rooney frequently covers quite dark territory and Normal People touches on domestic violence, the nature of sadism and the suicide of a minor character but remarkably, this is not a depressing book. This is partly because Rooney’s writing possesses a lovely wryness which will soften the hardest heart but more importantly, this is a novel about the transformative power of being loved. The love between Connell and Marianne is fragile but essential to the growth of them both. They understand the thrilling strangeness of each other in a way that no one else in their lives does. They spend most of the book not being in a relationship with each other and yet, when Connell first tells Marianne that he loves her, at a moment fairly early on, it changes her life in a pivotal way:
“Even in memory she will find this moment unbearably intense, and she’s aware of this now, while it’s happening. She has never believed herself to be fit to be loved by any person. But now she has a new life, of which this is the first moment, and even after many years have passed she will still think: Yes, that was it, the beginning of my life.”
Book images by Victoria Garcia. Portrait by Jonny Davies. Normal People is out on the 30th August, published by Faber.
This review was written by the literary critic Alex Peake-Tomkinson. The TOAST Book Club exists in a purely digital space and we hope that you will add your own opinions and thoughts below. We have three copies of Normal People to give away - all those who comment will be entered into a prize draw to win a copy. Prize draw ends 10th September.