... a compulsive, psychologically astute will-they-or-won't-they love story involving two of the most sympathetic people you're liable to meet between covers. Although hailed as a voice of millennials, Rooney offers plenty to appeal to readers across genders and generations ... Rooney's dialogue, like her descriptive prose, is slyly ironic, alternately evasive and direct, but always articulate. It cuts to the heart. She seems remarkably comfortable writing about sex — even uncomfortable sex — and she seamlessly integrates well-crafted texts, emails, and Facebook posts into her narratives like the digital native she is. Yet while Rooney may write about apparent aimlessness and all the distractions of our age, her novels are laser-focused and word-perfect. They build power by a steady accretion of often simple declarative sentences that track minuscule shifts in feelings ... Although frequently heartbreaking, Normal People isn't bleak. The brave determination of Rooney's characters to reach out and try to catch each other with no guarantee of success — and to open themselves to 'moments of joy despite everything' — is ultimately hopeful.
Sally Rooney’s sentences are droll, nimble and matter-of-fact. There’s nothing particularly special about them, except for the way she throws them. She’s like one of those elite magicians who can make a playing card pierce the rind of a watermelon ... In the new novel, there [are fewer throwaway lines] but perhaps something better. There is, in the pointed dialogue, a reminder of why we call it a punch line ... Rooney is almost comically talented at keeping the lovers in her novels frustrated and apart. When you are deep into Normal People, you may start to feel that she has gone to this particular well one too many times ... [Rooney is] an original writer who, you sense, is just getting started.
... Normal People... is just as absorbing as the buzz would lead you to believe ... Rooney’s choice to anchor the plot so firmly to the rhythms of university life gives Normal People a sense of containment that feels incredibly safe in contrast with Conversations With Friends ... But Rooney’s main appeal lies in her apt observations on young love. Even as technological advances have made it easier to communicate, so much remains unspoken ... Using clear language, dialogue is rendered to express deadpan self-consciousness, revealing Marianne and Connell’s insecurities and evasions. Rooney’s ability to dive deep into the minute details of her characters’ emotional lives while maintaining the cool detached exterior of the Instagram age reflects our current preoccupation with appearance over vulnerability. Here, youth, love and cowardice are unavoidably intertwined, distilled into a novel that demands to be read compulsively, in one sitting.
Nowadays it’s relatively easy to get a first novel published, hard to take the next step with any confidence. Sally Rooney is well on her way, propelled by unusual quantities of acclaim and assurance. And yet, Normal People seems a less mature project than Conversations with Friends, even if it isn’t a resurrected earlier project. Its slightly awkward time scheme, with artificial forward jumps perhaps transforming a more linear narrative, looks like a classic example of that common phenomenon, the rewrite that spawns a few new problems of its own. Either way, it’s an eccentric decision to follow up a triumph with a mere success.
[Rooney's novels are] marvels of restraint, combining deft social observation—especially of shifts of power between individuals and groups—with acute feeling. Rooney is precise and leaves a lot unsaid, though the directness of her descriptions tends to belie this—she’s a master of the kind of millennial deadpan that appears to skewer a whole life and personality in a sentence or two, leaving the knots of anguish and confusion beneath ... The novel maps their relationship in intense bursts punctuated by carefully dated gaps, usually of several months at a time (though there’s one of only a few minutes). This narrowness of focus...brings the snippets we see of the social environment into sharper relief ... One other thing Rooney makes both real and sexy, incidentally, is sex—a feat more remarkable in the context of contemporary fiction than it should be ... Rooney’s protagonists are usually as funny and intellectually agile as she is.
Rooney writes in a way that satisfies the literary Goldilocks: Her books are plotted but not too plotted, stylish but not too stylish, political but not too political, modern but not too modern. The novels are love stories but not too much so, mostly because their endings are nontraditionally happy, on the good side of what a woman recounting her romantic situation to a friend might call 'complicated' ... Her characters are charming and intelligent enough, but what sticks out about them is their circumstances, which Rooney mines to produce individual personalities and social expectations; they do not seem real so much as realistic, identifiable, relatable ... Though sex is something all Rooney’s characters think, talk, and worry about, descriptions of the act...are mainly notable for how not-embarrassing the writing is ... Rooney...writes as if emotions are phenomena to be observed, if not external then at least not fully attached to the person experiencing them. (She has this in common with Tao Lin.) ... formally, Rooney ends up enacting the kind of control over the text that its content argues against. What I mean by this is that the ending of Normal People is really cheesy...It’s so reasonable it’s almost absurd, though NYU acceptance as happy ending is very millennial.
Rooney does away with quotation marks, which has the double effect of speeding the book up and blurring the voice of the narrator with everyone else’s ... The loose rumblings of the narration often reminded me of a long e-mail from one friend to another, or a Tumblr post, typed in haste after a long night out ... [Rooney's] characters talk the way they do because that’s the way people talk now, and there’s no reason to imbue a narrator with style in an age that sees style as affect. But Rooney’s books lack Heti’s humor or Dunham’s goofy mishaps. Her characters are earnest to the bone ... The quietness of Rooney’s writing creates a different effect, powerful in its own way—the 'I could do that' thing, the false sense that if readers were to copy all their texts and e-mail threads they’d have a novel too. Her popular appeal comes in part from muting the voice on the page.
... electric ... Rooney’s control keeps [the book] from turning down worn roads ... Connell suffers a depression that Rooney captures in its limp and deadened hopelessness. But it is Marianne’s suffering at the hands of her violent and unloving family that proves the real red meat of the book ... With intelligence and heat, Rooney reveals the myth of normal people: There’s no such thing. She shows us how strange we are, how isolated, how confused, how alone with our wounds and pain, and how it’s this that joins us, makes us normal. And what a rare, beautiful thing to find someone who can, even just for moments, make us feel safe in our strangeness, and less alone.
Her prose, much like Salinger’s — her predecessor in philosophical post-adolescent neurosis — is sharp, dialogue-heavy and unadorned, written to be absorbed into the bloodstream quickly ... Part of the excitement of reading Rooney is seeing this old-school sensibility applied to what feel like acutely modern problems ... Rooney’s novels have the unusual power to do what realist fiction was designed to do: bring to light how our contemporaries think and act in private (which these days mostly means off the internet), and allow us to see ourselves reflected in their predicaments ... Normal People, even as it is almost physically impossible to stop reading once begun, feels in some ways like the slightly less impressive follow-up album by a beloved band ... It’s wonderful to hear the sound of Rooney’s voice on the page again, and the pleasures of her storytelling are even more immediate than in the first novel. But the book can also seem rushed and conventional in ways her debut did not ... the clarity of Rooney’s language gives way to clichés and not terribly convincing similes...as though the urgency of writing the story were so great that she was reluctant to pause to find the more perfect phrase.
It’s less rewarding than Rooney’s first book—if you told me she’d written this before Conversations, I’d believe you—but she shouldn’t be faulted for being a tough act to follow ... Teenagers think they’re fascinating, but they’re wrong, and let’s face it: most love stories are a bore. What’s seductive about Rooney’s work is the specificity of her people ... They’re real in a way that’s unsettling. The characters enact the authorial interests without feeling like mere devices ... The book relies on a sitcom trope (Rachel and Ross: Will they or won’t they?) but you keep turning the pages ... These are normal people, and Sally Rooney is good at seeing people as they are. The novel’s conclusion is rather silly, but even that doesn’t exactly break the spell the author casts.
The great poignancy of reading Normal People derives from being totally swept along by the force of Marianne's and Connell's psychological insights into each other or events and then witnessing how the solid certainty of those insights dissolves four months later or seven months later ... Rooney nails the bitter smarts of a certain kind of willfully odd teenage girl ... Normal People is a nuanced and flinty love story about two young people who 'get' each other, despite class differences and the interference of their own vigorous personal demons. But honestly, Sally Rooney could write a novel about bath mats and I'd still read it. She's that good and that singular a writer.
Normal People, written in barely a year since her debut, is set mainly in the same shadowy, smoky, studenty Dublin, has the same witty dialogue and delicately observed play of often anxious feeling, and the same interludes of startlingly graphic, passionately intimate sex. It, too, is astonishingly fresh: in fact, when these books are shelved together in the future, it may seem that Normal People is the earlier work ... Normal People may not be about being young right now, but better than that, it shows what it is to be young and in love at any time. It may not be absolutely contemporary, but it is a future classic.
This is a beautiful novel with a deep and satisfying intelligence at its heart. It’s emotionally and sexually admirably frank (Marianne’s masochistic streak takes her down some dark paths), but also kind and wise, witty and warm. In the end, a little like Rooney’s first book, it’s a sympathetic yet pithy examination of the myriad ways in which men and women try – and all too often fail – to understand each other.
Longlisted for the Booker Prize, Normal People is a more daring book, unafraid to enter the darker corners of the psyche. Where Conversations gets under your skin, this hits you deep in the marrow, and the result is quite astonishing ... Rooney excels in writing characters who stand askance from life. She writes anguish like nobody can. There’s nothing normal about Rooney. She’s exceptional.
[Rooney] has a knack for dialogue, a faultless grasp of pacing, and the ability to situate the reader instantly in a place and a feeling. But what makes her a great novelist is her freakish psychological acuity. She has a keen eye for the desires and anxieties expressed in everyday behavior ... Normal People has the feeling of having been either rushed into publication following the success of Conversations With Friends or a draft for Conversations With Friends. It’s most useful to read them together, as one book or project ... The power of Normal People is that, without the presence of a compromised thirtysomething character like Nick, the book speaks entirely without regard for middle age, insisting, rightfully, on the truth of its own time ...How elegantly Rooney interweaves consciousness and place; suddenly the reader is seated in a sunlit café, beverage in hand, feeling the condensation running down the side ... Rooney narrates very plainly, allowing the rhythm of what looks like ordinary speech to build, until she introduces a startling fact or perfect image. Her language is effortless, never overwrought.
In Normal People, the romance that drives the novel is also shaped by intellectual and political concerns ... Normal People is narrated in close third person, alternating between Connell’s and Marianne’s perspective. This delightfully claustrophobic structure creates the sense that the novel’s central character is neither individual, but the interdependent (or perhaps codependent) couple ... Normal People, it seems, aspires to contest the individualism of the novel form through its own affective resources. This is a subtle goal, and at moments it gets lost among the book’s more conventional pleasures. But it’s also an ambitious one, and Normal People advances the project of Conversations with Friends in a compelling direction ... Rooney may ultimately find a more confrontational vehicle for her politics. But it’s refreshing to see a novelist so earnestly uncertain about the value of her task—and a complex pleasure to read the novels animated by such ambivalence.
... [compared with Rooney's first novel, Normal Peopleequally witty and sure-footed second novel ... "... [compared with Rooney's first novel, Normal People is] equally witty and sure-footed second novel ... what starts off as wry and bright turns into a complex, sometimes bleak, coming-of-age story ... Normal People manages to feel utterly up-to-date and a throwback to a more distant time ... Ms. Rooney gets it all. She understands messy emotions—another way of saying that she understands the particular, peculiar shape of love and longing. Readers may have a difficult time remembering the last time they felt so invested in a novel’s characters.
Rooney sharpens her focus — and in turn heightens the intensity — by placing only two characters in the spotlight and showing how their love is tested ... Rooney’s account of an on-off relationship spread over the course of four years is imbued with emotional depth, wit and perspicacity ... In spare, pellucid prose, she wondrously conveys passion and compassion, rawness and tenderness, erotic highs and tragic lows. Along with the many original observations of, and acute insights into, human interaction, there are spot-on depictions of quotidian reality and dazzling renderings of those rarer, more sublime moments ... It is a masterpiece, pure and simple.
This kind of perspectival struggle is likewise at the center of Normal People, though here it becomes even more acute [than her previous book, Conversations with Friends] ... Restrained but precise, such scenes place Rooney among a cadre of authors who have renewed the realist novel by doubling down on its capacity for rich psychological description. Like autofictionists such as Ben Lerner, Sheila Heti, and Karl Ove Knausgaard, Rooney paints fine-grained portraits of emotional and intellectual experiences — particularly ambivalence, regret, and anxiety — that produce a realism specific to the post–Great Recession world ... But it’s Rooney’s attentiveness to pain that not only distinguishes her from these peers but also makes her novels feel, despite their homage to 19th-century authors like Austen, strangely more contemporary.
... brilliant ... The quality of Rooney’s writing, particularly in the psychologically wrought sex scenes, cannot be understated as she brilliantly provides a window into her protagonists’ true selves. Ultimately, when life bashes them and there is nowhere to turn, they find they always have each other.
Few contemporary novelists have achieved the kind of rock-star status that Rooney has found with her 2017 debut, Conversations With Friends, and now Normal. Her writing is deceptively simple: cool, declarative, almost clinical. But it’s hypnotic too, shot through with a quiet impact and subdermal intimacy that feels both universal and thrillingly new.
About halfway through Sally Rooney’s second novel, Normal People, I realized I was enjoying the book in almost exactly the same way—fully absorbed, gobbling it down in long, lolling sessions on the sofa—that I’d savored a Trollope novel I read a few months ago ... Although Rooney can turn a fine simile when she pleases... her prose style shuns most self-conscious displays of beauty. At times it reads like a report and at others like casual conversation ... And while [Rooney's] authorial voice is unflappably straightforward, the characters in Normal People are far from numbed out...
... both so tender and so intellectual that I held my breath as I read it, waiting for the balancing act to fail. It never did. Never once does Normal People try to prove its intelligence with coldness. Never once does it allow its romance to overwhelm the clarity of its prose. It takes a knife to its central relationship, slicing it apart to examine its dysfunctional power dynamics and never flinching away from the mess it uncovers — but it also allows that relationship to feel genuine and meaningful and even sweet ... Reading Normal People, you can luxuriate in the romance of the love story. But you are also never allowed to stop analyzing its power dynamics, to stop thinking about who is subservient to whom, and why, and how. The miracle of this book is that the romance and the analysis aren’t in opposition to each other. Instead, each amplifies the other, bringing the whole to a roaring crescendo. It is impossibly intellectual, impossibly tender. Impossibly beautiful, too.
... equally engrossing but still more conventional [than Conversations with Friends] ... Rooney’s writing is at its best when [Connell and Marianne] clash ... Their wry, well-observed dialogue keeps the pages turning and captures the youthful struggle of trying to find your place in the world. But the book falters when its players succumb to damsel and hero archetypes ... Still, Rooney shines when she depicts how the waves of trauma consume both the victim and her romantic partners. The author offers a realistic portrayal of how two teenagers might struggle with the ramifications of one’s upbringing — and often fail one another in the process. The fallout of abuse remains a subject well worth exploring. Here, Rooney takes an admirable first step.
Politics in Rooney’s novel are often ambient rather than explicit, submerged under the surface of a love story ... She’s embedding politics closely and rigorously in the love story, showing how relationships can function like miniature states, and how political principles can work on an intimate scale, in the interactions of two, three, or four people ... The novel suggests the possibility of a setup in which these advantages are shared and redistributed according to need. Call it a Marxism of the heart ... what Rooney has is something different—a seismographer’s attention to the dips and tremors of social value ... In some ways, Normal People feels like an extension of Rooney’s flashier first novel ... Normal People answers the question posed in Conversations With Friends ... Normal People proposes that a merciful and just country can still exist, even if only in the space between friends.
Normal People is inarguably interesting, regardless of how aware a reader is about Rooney's rise to fame; the opinion of this reviewer is that the book is also a formidable literary achievement ... It can be startling how adept Rooney is at weaving the unspoken in with the spoken, hinting at internal motivations and insecurities without making them overt. The directness of the prose, and of the dialogue, gives off the impression of simplicity, but the social dynamics are intricate.
The thing that feels most modern in Rooney’s writing is the way her characters’ minds adhere to their bodies ... Rooney pays a different kind of attention to her characters’ edges and limits than the 19th-century novelists to whom she is compared. If Henry James and the Brontës used the charged edges of the body to portray desire and need, Rooney presses through those edges into the soft meat inside ... Sally Rooney is doing something new. And, I find her uncomfortably familiar. She writes with a matter-of-factness that feels at once arch and without artifice ... And, as I do when I read Lawrence, I find myself reading paragraph after paragraph and feeling like I wrote them myself, though I’m also certain I could never write anything so precise, so perfectly, transparently true. Rooney’s is an exacting balance between extraordinary familiarity (not just of character and plot but of sentence rhythm and diction) and maddening precision ... it’s also soothing that if we’re in the hands of an author like Sally Rooney, we can just keep turning pages, and the plot comes out right.
Rare is the author who so dexterously parts and peels consciousness. Rooney’s a masterful observer of embryonic adulthood: her prose is beautiful yet contained, it doesn’t ramble on ... Rooney has a brilliant knack of describing the ways in which young adults are often overwhelmed and horrified by their power over others; their reckless testing of the reach of that power; their grappling with the societal machinery that forges their psyche; their intense shame ... Normal People is a tale of love between two people of polar class differences.
Reading Sally Rooney’s second novel Normal People is a compulsive experience ... Normal People is a love story in the truest sense, by which I mean a novel intimately concerned with the things two people can do to each other, and how much we each might want to hurt or be hurt ... Normal PeopleRead Full Review >>
Rooney’s writes in spare and forceful present tense ... This structure — digital time rather than analog — reflects the way the characters live, and the effect as the reader turns the pages is almost like following the quickly shifting scenes of a movie or telenovela. However, Normal People depicts the journey to adulthood not just with its highs and lows, but also with plentiful periods of repetitious tedium. The atmosphere of waiting for something to happen, to grow up, to change, is rendered so vividly that the reader (like a youthful character) may become impatient. The prose is brisk, but the novel feels longer than it is.
The fallout that follows long after the schoolyard gossip dies makes for a keen psychological study of two specific, powerfully drawn characters that fixes its gaze inward. But in her microscopic specificity, Irish author Sally Rooney... has accomplished a literary magic trick, writing a novel of universal profundity that explores the way power dynamics in sex shape not just those relationships, but our sense of self ... Every line of Normal People is written in the service of character, even the most quotidian details ... Fortunately, there’s nothing at all intellectually unserious about getting swept away by Normal People.”
... sharp, painful, and fine ... plot summary can’t do this book justice. Rooney is fully aware of the conventions she’s playing with. The meat of the story is psychological, and here Rooney is as good as that great Victorian, George Eliot ... The author’s great skill is her ability to make the crises of youth reverberate hard and personally in readers, from social ostracism to loss of virginity to the heavy desire to feel like — you guessed it — normal people ... In the end, this crushingly beautiful book is a naked examination of how difficult honesty can be.
Rooney makes the mundane beautiful and examines the human experience in fresh and provocative ways, rendering it all extraordinary yet relatable. She unpacks the subtleties of relationships, at least of particular kinds of relationships, showing the dangers and pleasures of love and sex, and presents issues of class with honesty and a fresh writing style. The dialogue feels personal and real, and the points of view of each main character, which at times are in conflict, challenge the reader to examine those perspectives in various ways ... The honesty found in Normal People is almost confrontational, which is wonderful. It is an old-fashioned literary romance stripped of anything saccharine or overly poetic. This is a book to savor and devour, full of the often overlooked wisdom of youth and intelligence of passion.
... an unconventional bildungsroman that explores not the power of self-determination but the idea of the self as something generated between people ... In Normal People, Rooney shows us the constructive power of nurturing, tolerant relationships in opposition to the destructiveness of superficial relationships.
Any reader who thought that, after Conversations With Friends, Ms. Rooney wouldn’t have more to say about vulnerable young adults navigating the rough terrain of love and relationships will be pleased to discover than her psychological acuity is every bit as sharp in this new novel ... An astute observer of one’s contemporaries who also possesses the talent to write about them is bound to have uncommon insight into their foibles, their insecurities, and the often self-defeating decisions they inflict upon themselves ... If some secondary characters skirt the edges of stereotype — Marianne’s abusive brother, Alan, is particularly one-dimensional — the novel is still an uncommonly acute portrait of the unease that questions of class, sex and social acceptance, especially among young people, can engender.
...a tremendously fulfilling novel by a writer with extraordinary talent ... The story may be simple on its face, but through this framework, Rooney looks at social and economic divides, the effects of domestic violence, power dynamics in relationships, depression, desire and much more ... Rooney’s writing is a marvel, seemingly so casual and uncrafted that it appears almost elemental ... Her voice is almost gentle, but her characters are intensely emotional ... Honestly, the best way to experience Rooney’s writing is to stop reading my attempt to reveal its magic and to go read her for yourself.
My proof copy of Sally Rooney’s new novel, Normal People, is so battered and bashed about that it’s almost unreadable now. Since I got my hands on it about three months ago it has been almost constantly on loan to a succession of friends and acquaintances — even the ones who never normally read contemporary fiction. When they’ve read it, it’s all they want to talk about. It’s all I want to talk about too. How brilliant to feel so excited about a new novel.
At times... the novel [has] the feel of a standard love story garnished with trendy politics. But in Rooney’s work, the question of economics is ultimately woven into the fabric of relationships. The novel deftly outlines the teenage romance as an object of surveillance and the site of both metaphorical and literal exchanges of capital ... . Rooney remains tightly focused on the romance ― Marianne’s and Connell’s friendships are marginal and shallow, their ambitions mostly alluded to ― and the narrative is sprinkled with those heart-stuttering moments familiar from teen rom-coms ... The swoony sentimentality is seductive, but it also left me dissatisfied, even suspicious, as I often feel when a literary novel leans into comfortable tropes rather than destabilizing them ... Normal People is not, speaking of Austen, particularly funny, though the characters are always laughing ... In other ways, Normal People does resemble Austen’s work: It’s a novel of reading and misreading, of the exterior clashing against the interior. It’s a novel about power, status and capital, and yet it allows its characters to be human and its trajectory to be optimistic. Circumstance is meaningful, but not determining. Rooney uses this romance to test how money and society shape intimate human connection, and how it can find ways around and through those bounds.
That there isn’t any one way to say what the book is 'about' could be a considered a flaw of this novel, though it never felt like one to me ... I suspect I could give Rooney writing prompts, however boring or clichéd (and her plots, taken as such, could be called both), and she would disappear for a few months then return bearing a book that would reduce me to a skull emoji, filled with melancholy longing ... Casually sharp interpersonal insights seem to roll offhand through their conversations as well as their consciousnesses, dazzling the reader ... the characters are wildly, freakishly attuned to every sensation they experience ... You get greedy, reading her. If Rachel Cusk has gut renovated the novel, Sally Rooney has stripped it for parts. Why can’t all books be like this, I started thinking midway through, just 280 pages of pure human relationship?
Beyond her spare, online-savvy, Tao Lin–esque emotionally distant prose, what’s crucial to Rooney’s generational role is that she mostly lets previous generations off the hook. The fact that her characters also speak the language of millennial socialism and Marxism while employing it as more put-on social identity than character motivator is, for their more fiscally conservative forebears, an added bonus ... The politics of Rooney’s novels are ultimately in service to her characters’ eccentricities. The emotional distance of her style applies equally to the books’ politics, making her more of a sociologist than a novelist ... the events that transpire in Conversations With Friends and Normal People don’t feel like lived experiences, exactly. They feel as though they happened in the past and a clever person is describing why and how they happened. It’s like a term paper on tropes turned into a novel ... The result is a hyperflatness, a hypersmoothness. There is relatively little agency at play, relatively few decisions being made ... None of this is meant to dismiss the novels because, in a way, Rooney has this all precisely right. The truest expression of what it feels like to live in the modern, postcapitalist political sphere is this oppressive feeling of lacking agency ... there is little revolutionary about Rooney’s politics, no scent of revolt — only oppression. Which is, I suppose, exactly why she’s so attractive to a generation that established the politics under which we all now live.
Though deferred love triumphing over class disparities is an old trope, and belief in the power of love to reform hearts and societies has been with us for even longer, Rooney expertly uses the former to explore the current possibilities for the latter ... Rooney’s use of the term 'normal' does not escape this ambivalence, and she navigates it with nuance.
Rooney throws some well-aimed punches at the hypocrisy of the privileged elite, clamouring for change yet unconsciously wed to a class hierarchy the likes of Connell cannot hope to join. These are short interludes but they speak volumes ... The writing is lyrical but fast and full of energy, intended to be absorbed as quickly as her characters’ rate of transformation and epiphany.
At her best, Rooney has Salter’s decisiveness, a writerly confidence that lets simple, well-placed phrases ring truly and without excessive qualification ... Rooney is particularly accomplished at sharply observing the small nuances of social behavior ... So then, the writing is often admirable and the book goes down smoothly and overall the reading experience was more or less a pleasant one. Why then, having finished it, is there this lingering feeling of disappointment, this sense like: That’s it? ... I believe I single out Rooney among her peers for the promise she more often than not displays. What I would like to contend is that what other reviewers have tentatively critiqued as a rushed quality in her latest work...is a more serious flaw literarily. That throughout Normal People, a novel that seems to want at once to capture a certain modern disaffection and provide the comforts of a classical love story, Rooney displays what I found to be a kind of cold, artistic indifference towards her characters and their world, and the potential for either to be more interesting than they are immediately ... overwhelmingly the novel chooses to refer to the power of literature rather than perform the immeasurably more difficult task of doing what literature should ... Despite my conflicted feelings I still look forward to reading more of Rooney’s work. She has a keener eye than most and her prose is often a joy to read.
... the novel emerges most acutely as a reminder that even 'normal'-sized lives can feel impossibly large ... More than the class conflicts that threaten to overwhelm the pair’s affections, more than the petty jockeying for social status or the major traumas that pepper the plot, it’s the almost unbearable fidelity with which Rooney describes the process of loving someone—romantic or platonic, requited or not—that defines Normal People and distinguishes it from similar fiction ... The beating heart of Normal People is its refusal to dismiss the prickling intensity of being 18 or 21 by treating it, from the perspective of 28 or 32, as merely ridiculous. The novel never applies the benefit of hindsight to the topsy-turvy feeling of being young ... enthralling.
... quite unburdened, almost light, the obverse of the embellished brooding so characteristic of campus novels ... plot structure and themes, can, at times, be almost archetypal ... Rooney’s prose style is elegant and clipped. She writes of psychological pressures with gentle precision and leaves her sentences largely unadorned. A combination of simple plotting from above plus subversive attachment from below (both in terms of the protagonists’ breaking of social rank and the private intensities of their relationship) holds the reader close. I especially love Rooney’s conjurings of inclement weather ... Rooney fills the form with her own ideas. As with any great novel of manners, Normal People’s politics manifests itself in the building of characters, not the rhetorical proving wrought through individual conversations ... What’s rare about Normal People is that it has something to say about literary ambition...Even rarer is that it announces this earnestly.
... exemplary ... Normal People is a definitive novel of the transformative period of the years from late adolescence to early maturity. Rooney adeptly examines the paradigm shifts that occur during the vacillating choices of popularity, the exigencies of class consciousness, and the vagaries of love. It is not clear how open people ever are to change, but Rooney makes a compelling case that when they do change, it is likely because someone else has affected them.
What makes Normal People a more impressive and layered novel than Conversations With Friends is that Rooney is constantly flexing the power dynamics as the contexts around her characters change ... How Rooney navigates the difficult politics of this is impressive. She is clear that Marianne’s desires are legitimate while also exploring what the basis of those desires could be ... This complexity is one of Normal People’s greatest strengths and is a reflection of Rooney expanding her vision of what a novel can do. In keeping with this, the book is structurally ambitious...This is simultaneously frustrating and an important part of what makes the book so compulsively readable ... Normal People lacks the sheer force of will that Frances, as a narrator, brought to Conversations With Friends, and the lack of a grounded perspective somewhat diminishes Rooney’s ability to explore some of the political and social avenues that gave her debut its irresistible quality. Despite this, Normal People is a strong book in its own right. Conversations with Friends is a difficult book to follow-up, and Rooney admirably takes risks with structure and point of view. Though these don’t payoff as well as one might hope, it is evidence of a writer thinking seriously about how to approach her craft. Coverage of Rooney has often descended into caricature—claims that she is the “great millennial novelist” are as common as they are misguided—but Normal People reaffirms that her work speaks for itself.
Normal People is Rooney’s follow up to the equally popular Conversations with Friends, and her elegance continues to defy standards. Rooney’s novel is a story about contemporary love and companionship to its gut, though not love in the sense of archaic Austen or young and modern John Green. Rooney sculpts her own breed of intimate story ... It sounds terribly stereotypical, and maybe even more stereotypical to say, 'this version is different,' but it really is. Even from its inception, the story is carefully written. It is not penned to target a teen audience or rework an intimate love story. It is merely about two absolutely mundane characters that Rooney knows with a sacred intimacy and to whom she is allowing us access ... Rooney’s storytelling is unique because it refuses the use of any avoidable images and verbosity — the text of Normal People is raw, left only with its familiar dialogue and straightforward chronical of action ... Rather than revealing long passages of character thought or detail, Rooney sticks to basics and simply moves through the story. The characters become deeply identifiable to readers, not because of one explicit similarity to life, but rather from the lack thereof — Rooney’s writing pares the writing to its very bones, making character development moldable to more experiences ... When all is finished, Normal People speaks in the gentle voices of its characters but is overwhelming with its realistic extremity. Rooney offers one of the best depictions of 21st century love yet — its fleetingness, its complexity and its publicity. It is a devastating and hopeless and thrilling depiction.
Formed of eighteen vignettes spanning a four-year period, Normal People is considerably leaner than Rooney’s acclaimed debut ... Her skilfully paced narration creates a sense of space within this compact structure, slowing down time by drawing attention to prevaricatory fumblings and gaps in conversation, whether it’s Marianne rooting around in her handbag to mask an awkward moment or Connell kicking a crushed beer can across a floor during an uncertain lull ... At first blush, this novel’s fixation on moral wholesomeness evokes an atavistic religiosity, a reflexive priggishness redolent of internalised Catholic guilt, but there is more to it. In a secular age, goodness is not an end in itself but a currency in a marketplace of human striving. When you strip it down, this is a story about two people exchanging cultural and emotional capital. Each has something the other lacks ... This might sound like a somewhat transactional basis for affection, but that doesn’t make it soulless. A world in which life is increasingly shaped by the vagaries of work and itinerancy – both figurative and literal – demands an enlarged conception of romance. In the 21st century, not all love stories will be happily-ever-afters, a point Normal People articulates with subtlety, generosity and grace.
...an exceptional new novel ... Rooney’s second novel...is, on its surface, a will they-won’t they romance. Dig a little deeper, though, and it’s a fascinating examination of class differences and shifting power dynamics ... Rooney’s genus is in her ability to take a classic love story and make it fresh, largely thanks to her knack for characterization.
...an addictive account of the relationship between two brainy college students ... Normal People is a moodier and tighter novel than twenty-eight-year-old Rooney’s debut novel, Conversations with Friends... the story begins in high school and never loses the delicious gravitas of angst. It could be named Things that Don’t Come Up in Conversations with Friends. To list a few: crushing class anxiety, the lasting damage of childhood abuse, sincere political ardor. But Rooney’s most robust subject, and arguably her most taboo, is the unsettling effect of real human intimacy ... Rooney posits that true intimacy leads to self-annihilation, a fate that Marianne desires and Connell resists. Rooney calls our bluff when we say we want love. Look, she gestures, is this really what you want?
...riveting ... Gone is the love foursome of Conversations, gone too the ironic knowingness. Rooney’s new book is more concentrated, more desperate, more willing to go for broke ... Page by page, Normal People works out with fascinating exactitude what the privilege of touch and influence entails. In the way of 19th-century novels, Rooney makes us care in old-fashioned ways about the outcome of her story ... While Rooney grounds her plot in a world of social fixities, she understands personal truths to be elastic. Over the course of a life, almost anything might happen to anyone. And anyone might at one time or another become somebody else ... In the realm of love, either everything is normal or nothing is, Rooney seems to say. Love for her 'normal people' is the ultimate conversion experience ... Goodness is a gift Connell gives Marianne; now it belongs to her. It’s tempting to imagine each without the other. Marianne might year by year come to value herself less, be more open to abasement. Connell might become one of those Henry James men with his hands in his pockets, a ghost in his own life. The idea of the unlived life hovers over these pages. Yet Rooney goes full-throttle toward the big finish: Love is real, and love matters.
Irish author Sally Rooney’s novels exist in [the] headspace, where romantic obsession, matters of the body, social media, and just a touch of narcissism exist coterminously with awareness of and concern about the wider world ... Marianne and Connell embody some of the oldest tropes from literature and teen movies. She’s the poor little rich girl, the outcast who’s been secretly beautiful all along, who just needs the attention of the right man to blossom. Connell is the football star who is required to take the bitchy popular girl to the high school debs’ ball even when the loner has caught his eye ... Rooney keeps Marianne and Connell in their own little world, capturing that feeling when there’s someone in the room you want to keep your eye on and you sense their presence in every cell of your body, even if you’re not together ... It’s also important to remember the changes in the world outside of Marianne and Connell: that Ireland only ended its ban on abortion in May of 2018, and that portrayals of teenage sex—especially hot teenage sex, which Sally Rooney writes beautifully—is still transgressive. 'Art is purposeless without a sense of right and wrong,' says Marianne towards the end of the novel, an apt summation of why Normal People feels so important right now. For all of its more trifling pleasures, Normal People is a work of art itself.
...Rooney’s writing is a startling, lucid gift. Her prose to me is that self-evidently spellbinding and new. Yet it’s tough to pinpoint how exactly Rooney achieves this effect. She expends no apparent effort to be luminous or 'literary.' She doesn’t go to great lengths to flaunt her erudition or intelligence ... the directness of Rooney’s prose is not crafted to serve some posture of hip disaffection or ironic distance. It rather attests to a species of steady, unblinking attention, a kind of uninflected exactitude ... Normal People is more structurally daring than its predecessor, yet it doesn’t feel quite as cohesive as Conversations. Nevertheless, Normal People represents an admirable expansion of Rooney’s vision and is a remarkable novel in its own right ... Part of me wonders, therefore, if Rooney’s mode of narration is intended as something of a computer-age reappropriation of the nineteenth-century novel of manners ... In the nineteenth-century omniscient novel, characters are primarily experienced from the outside in. Their personalities are additive rather than subjectivized; they result from the sum total of their observed social behaviors, rather than from an essential core or consciousness ... The charge one feels behind Sally Rooney’s writing, that is to say, might be that she’s speaking to an audience yet to arrive, or articulating a reality for which we haven’t yet developed rules and forms. In any case, it seems safe to say that Rooney is not much interested in following rules. I can’t wait to see what she writes next.
In straightforward, deadpan prose that I first found jarring but later found moving, Rooney spins an epic story of what modern love looks like in a millennial culture where people are afraid of being vulnerable and feelings are unspokenly prohibited ... Rooney's genius lies not in her plot but in her characters. Flipping between Marianne and Connell's point of views, Rooney shrewdly depicts the complexities of a dysfunctional relationship, stripping away layers of their thoughts to reveal the dynamics of ever-shifting power struggles and how emotional insecurities can sneak their way into a relationship ... The relationship is messy and carries weighted moments made all the more intense by the heady, raw notions of a young 20-something — without the stereotypical angst. But it's simultaneously sweet, genuine, and heartfelt: While Marianne and Connell have a hard time admitting it, their chemistry is apparent to the reader, and it's their magnetism the book revolves around.
This brilliantly nuanced second novel fulfills the promise evident in the stunning debut, Conversations with Friends, as Rooney once again portrays to dazzling effect intelligent young adults who negotiate social roles and scenarios reinforcing power structures that, for better or worse, define relationships. Marianne and Connell are unforgettable characters, alluring and sympathetic, and Rooney is a formidable talent. A major literary achievement.
Long-listed for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, this superb book more than lives up to the high expectations set for it by Rooney’s lauded first novel, Conversations with Friends...Showcasing Rooney’s focus and ability in building character relationships that are as subtle and infinite as real-life ones, and her perceptive portrayal of class, Normal People gets at the hard work of becoming a person and the near impossibility of knowing if a first love is a true one.
In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy ... Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication ... Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become ... Absolutely enthralling. Read it.
Rooney...stuns with her depiction of an on-again off-again relationship between two young adults navigating social pressures ... Personal crises and dissembling about feelings push the pair alternatively together and apart up to an open-ended but satisfying conclusion. Rooney crafts a devastating story from a series of everyday sorrows by delicately traversing female and male anxieties over sex, class, and popularity. This is a magnificent novel.