Normal People

Connell stands in Marianne’s kitchen, the last place he wants to be—her parents have money, and his mother is cleaning their floors, not quite ready for her ride home.

He’s ashamed, yet when they get together, it’s him, not Marianne, who wants to keep their relationship a secret at school.

He can’t quite articulate why—he’s vaguely popular, she’s vaguely weird, but it’s more complicated than that. She complies, though, and that formative shame pinballs between their bodies as they move through their years, never quite secure with each other but never fully extricated, either.

Normal People is one of those annual-ish books that became such a, what, a trend, that I, a surly contrarian, felt disinclined to read it. There was the book jacket that casually dropped its author Sally Rooney’s birth year (1991) in the first line of her bio, to ensure we understand how much more she has accomplished than certain surly contrarians who were very much not born in 1991. There were the rapturous reviews, there were the giddy counter-reviews, there were stories on “The Cult of Sally Rooney” and Interview’s piece about all the fancy (white!) waifs of Brooklyn loading this book and only this book into their totes. Was all this noise kind of sexist? Was the book just not my jam? Or neither? (Or both?)

I picked it up again one day when the two line-drawn faces on the cover stared at me in the library. I did still feel drawn to it, curious. I turned the book over and, wait: Elif Batuman loves this book? Sheila Heti? They’re two of the most interesting weirdos around. It was longlisted for the Booker? Zadie Smith is quoted about Rooney’s first book?

And now, this. I’ve fed into exactly what annoyed me about this book—I’ve perpetuated the talk about the talk about the book, the endless online spiral that winds further and further away from the center. It has nothing to do with the book. The book is good!

Colin and Marianne are two smart, self-aware, memorable young Irish people just adept enough at examining their own forlorn feelings to feel even more adrift on what they learn. PLEASE READ

Normal People by Sally Rooney, from Hogarth