Irish author Sally Rooney’s second novel Normal People follows the lives of two students, Marianne and Connell, as they transition from high school in rural Ireland to university life in Dublin. Spanning a four-year period, the novel presents a nuanced and relatable perspective on mental health and social class in university. It is fair to say that the struggles experienced by the two characters reflect relevant and relatable issues surrounding relationships and romance for young adults in the 21st century, whilst providing insight into the rhythm and pace of university life.
Rooney’s critically acclaimed novel was crowned Book of the Year at the British Book Awards this year, and has been a hot topic of conversation amongst book critics and readers over the past few months. The 28-year-old author has been praised for her “extraordinary” (The Guardian) work, and was hailed the “voice of a generation” by judges of the British Book Awards.
What makes Normal People stand out from the crowd of campus novels already numbering the shelves of bookshops is Rooney’s ability to create and maintain a convincing and revealing dialogue between the characters. At times the politically-charged conversation between students can appear superficial and affected. Although on the surface this may be seen to detract from the novel’s depth and authenticity, this allows Rooney to capture a significant aspect of the social politics of student life. As young adults, the characters development is often displayed through their use of social currency. Opinions are voiced without exposition, and Connell finds himself disillusioned by social politics of his peers.
Whilst the transition into university life is relatively smooth for Marianne, Connell struggles with the judgement he faces surrounding his social class and upbringing. Dublin presents something very different to each character, reflecting in equal measure the opportunities and trials faced by most young people moving to a city for the first time. As a coming-of-age novel, Normal People tracks the pivotal transition into early adulthood that we all undertake as we begin university. Numerous characters come in and out of the plot, whilst relationships gradually change and evolve.
For those of you embarking on the path of university life for the first time, Normal Peoples peaks out as an honest and plausible comment on the ethics and social politics of 21st century life for students. Rooney perfectly captures the vast array of social transactions many of us experience for the first time as young adults, articulated through uncomplicated and frank conversation. Normal People captures the highs and lows of everyday life, making it both relevant and relatable to any young reader. Love, deceit, mistrust, and jealousy are bound up in Rooney’s realistic 21st century romance, making it a very human novel that speaks out to readers of all backgrounds.