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Read IN BED: Normal People

Words & Images by Hannah-Rose Yee

“Marianne laughs. And why shouldn’t she laugh? Her life here in Carricklea is over, and either a new life will begin, or it won’t. Soon she’ll be packing things into suitcases: woollen jumpers, skirts, her two silk dresses. A set of teacups and saucers patterned with flowers. A hairdryer, a frying pan, four white cotton towels. A coffee pot. The objects of a new existence.”

London in August was hot, and listless, and hot, and the air crackled with the reverberating buzz of the forthcoming release of Normal People, the much-anticipated second novel from 27-year-old Irish writer Sally Rooney.

Back in my old job as the entertainment editor at a national news website in Australia I would have smugly read the thing already, having received an advance copy in the post months before the book’s release. But now, a freelancer living in a completely different city without any of my old publisher contacts I am merely one of the people again, buying movie tickets and pre-ordering books right beside you all. How shall I ever endeavour to bear it?

The cruelty of having to wait, and how insensitive I had once been, crowing about all the yet-to-be-published books to my friends, was driven home to me that August as I waited with the impatience of a child on Christmas Eve for the release of Normal People. After the success of her debut novel, 2017’s Conversations With Friends, everyone was desperate to see if Normal People could live up to all of its swollen expectations. Every week the newspapers carried a fresh review of the novel, months before it was slated for release in bookstores. I heard whispers of advance galley copies being passed around London literary circles with as much illicit reverence as contraband.

My point is: there was serious hype about this book. And I know this review is only adding to the hype somewhat, but I want to say that if you haven’t read it yet then you are in for such a wonderful treat. Everything you might have read about Normal People is true. It is that good. Sally Rooney is that talented.

Everything you might have read about Normal People is true. It is that good. Sally Rooney is that talented.

This review has already gone on too long, so I’ll be brief. The story follows Marianne and Connell, who grew up together in a small Irish town. Marianne is wealthy but a loner; Connell is poor but popular. The book is concerned with the ways that the pair become entwined over the years as they move to Dublin and attend university, how they dip in and out of each other’s lives and bedrooms. How people can change but also how certain people can change you.

Normal People is a book about sex and power, mostly concerned with how and who has control over our lives and bodies. If you were born in the ‘90s as both the author and I were, or even close to the ‘90s, you will find familiarity between the lines of this story. Some scenes might have echoes in your own life. The way Connell and Marianne treat each other, the way they communicate and, more often than not, miscommunicate, will ring true.

This might be unsettling: the way that a piece of literature can unmask you so completely. But that’s why we read in the first place, isn’t it?

This might be unsettling: the way that a piece of literature can unmask you so completely. But that’s why we read in the first place, isn’t it?

@hannahroserose


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