Reading this book was like listening to the bagpipes. It’s OK for a bit. But then the droning goes on and on and you just want it to be over.
After being disappointed with the much-lauded Conversations with Friends, I thought I’d give Sally Rooney a second chance. After all, Normal People is one of the most talked-about books at the moment. In 2018 it won the Costa Novel Award and it was Waterstones’ Book of the Year. So I gave it a try. And did I like it? No. I don’t understand what the hype is about.
I admit that this is a more accomplished novel than her debut. I thought it was interesting until a third of the way through, when I was struck by the dreaded ‘how many more pages to go?’ disease. The pattern throughout the story – the two protagonists getting together, drifting apart, getting together, etc – became repetitive. There’s barely a plot. Basically the narrative follows Connell and Marianne, two students in an Irish small town who then go on to university in Dublin. They are opposites but they’re attracted to each other without admitting they want to be together as a couple. And they have various annoying friends.
Again, I was frustrated by the lack of speech marks. It creates more work for the reader to separate out the dialogue from the rest of the text, to no apparent purpose. The story didn’t feel like fiction to me; it felt like fragments of the author’s experience as a student, or the experiences of people she knew, shuffled into a book. There were under 300 pages (which is shorter than an average novel these days) but I still struggled to get through it. I just didn’t care about the characters, either. They seemed flat and undeveloped. The more I think about this book, the more puzzled I become. I can’t see anything special in it. There isn’t even much to like. I’ll definitely not be reading any more by this author.