Review: ‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney

Recently I posted a question on my Instagram account asking if a plot summary should feature in book reviews. An overwhelming number of people said – yes it should, with some arguing that perhaps it depends on the situation, case by case basis.

As I sit here trying to find words to summarise the plot in ‘Normal People’, I start to realise there isn’t any plot to it at all.

We begin with popular soccer player Connell and socially awkward introvert Marianne as they find their way to each other during their high school years (or secondary school rather since the story is set in Ireland). Sometime after, their paths cross again as they begin further studies at Trinity College. This time though their social status seems to have inverted as Marianne flourishes while Connell struggles to fit in.

And so, their lives go on, they meet up here and there, on purpose or by accident, sometimes fooling around, sometimes not. However never commit to defining the relation between them, not acknowledging it as a relationship at any point.

That’s it, that’s the whole plot.

Yes, some could argue that ‘Normal People’:

  • Shows the differences arising from growing up in distinct social classes, rich vs. poor.
  • Serves as a love story.
  • Is relatable through characters and their stories.

For me, however, this book is just shite.


There is a running joke of a Trinity student being stereotypically posh and pretend sophisticated – and that’s exactly the personality Rooney gave both Connell and Marianne and nothing else. From time to time they were described to be thinking/talking about politics and world events, implying that by doing so, they are above other characters. Apart from coming off as snobbish, the only other personality traits they had were based on their own demons from the past.

I’m always happy to see complex characters with a complicated backstory, facing hardships but there’s got to be a follow-up to that which wasn’t there in ‘Normal People’, whether positive or negative. The protagonists felt stagnant in that regard. Instead, they fuelled each other’s demons while remaining in a clearly unhealthy relationship which is not a definition of a love story in my books.

It’s not a profound novel and I think it might be relaying an incorrect message. Or maybe I’m simply not posh enough to understand it, Connell and Marianne wouldn’t befriend me, not a Trinity College graduate.

The social-economic impact of the protagonists’ upbringing was poorly developed and hence didn’t feel like a contributing factor to the storyline.

A lot of drama within and around this novel for no apparent reason in my opinion.

The writing style itself felt artificial, with no flow to it and filled with tedious descriptions. Secondary characters are virtually non-existent. Marianne’s brother, for example, is hinted at having had a major part in her life from the early years, and he and that influence are mentioned only on a handful of occasions, within a few sentences each time. It does not make for an immersive experience for me as a reader when you are forced to fill in many blanks yourself.

Think it’s fair to say, ‘Normal People’ and I were not a good match for one another, nearly as much as Connell and Marianne I dare say.

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