Review of ‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney

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.

25 thoughts on “Review of ‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney”

  1. Great review! I thought I was the only one who didn’t like Normal People; it dragged and the abuse storyline was dealt with abominably. I think I’m missing something as everyone seems to love it!

    1. Thank you! It seems there are people who don’t like the book, they just don’t shout so loud about it as the Rooney fans!
      Yes, the abuse element was very odd. Nothing happened about it. In fiction you would expect there to be consequences or explanations… but it was just nasty. I have the feeling I’m missing something too, but then I have that feeling about other hyped up books I’ve read lately.

    1. Very overhyped! I think it’s a pity that this book is taking up so much attention when there are so many others to promote. I’m wondering if it’s a generational appeal, as many of the positive reviews I’ve seen on other blogs appear to be from younger reviewers.

    1. Ha ha, thank you! I hope it’s refreshing for people to see a review of this book which is not saying what a genius the author is.

  2. “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.”

    HA. An excellent flash review right there. I’ve been on the fence about trying this one out, think you’ve just decided for me.

    1. Thanks. Yes, that was inspired of me! I’m so much wittier in negative reviews πŸ˜€
      If you’re curious, maybe get the book from the library or get a used copy…

    1. Hooray! And while I’m being negative about the book, I will just mention I dislike the cover too. Horrible colour and people in a sardine can? Ugh.

    1. Thanks! I don’t know how I came up with the bagpipes, it was an inspired moment.

    1. Ha ha, thank you Ova! I seem to have fun writing negative reviews… πŸ˜€

  3. I am sorry you didn’t like this more! I really love Rooney’s style but I can absolutely see how it might get old really fast for other readers.

    1. I know so many people loved this book – honestly I wanted to like her style! It just wasn’t for me. Thanks for your comment πŸ™‚

  4. I have seen much hype around this book too and always wondered about it. I trust your judgement and will never read it now. I also don’t like books without good punctuation marks (ok, unless it is Jose Saramago), and underdeveloped characters turn me off too. I hear people talking about abuse and depression when discussing this book. I think nothing even comes close to the book that I am reading right now – A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. That is one excessively brutal book on these topics, so I do not mind difficult topics if everything else about a book is good.

    1. I’m flattered that you trust my judgement – thank you! I think, going by the kind of books you tend to review, that this may not be your ideal read anyway. But who knows, maybe you’ll get curious and decide to read it!
      I tend to avoid difficult topics in fiction, mainly because I prefer novels as escapism, but I will try anything if I like the writing style.

  5. Oooh contraversial! I’ve just finished Conversations With Friends and really liked it, so I’m going to assume that I’ll like Normal People too – we obviously just differ in taste. Great review though!

    1. Oh well, if you liked Conversations then I’m sure you’ll be a fan of Normal People too! They were a similar style.
      Thank you! πŸ™‚

    1. I know – so many people love this book and I had expected to at least like it, but it was so unenjoyable and I don’t feel I got anything from it. Except disappointment!
      It would sound unkind to suggest that the author being young and Irish has anything to do with why the critics have lauded the book… but I wonder if it’s a factor.

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