Friday, July 3, 2020

Audio Book Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

Genre: Audio Book
Pub. Date: April 16, 2019
Publisher: Random House Audio
Source: Personal Copy
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school soccer team while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her housekeeping job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers - one they are determined to conceal.  A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years in college, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. Then, as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.  Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love, and the complex entanglements of family and friendship."

Connell and Marianne live in Carricklea, Ireland, a small town in County Sligo.  Marianne's family is well off and her mother has a successful career; however, Connell, her schoolmate, lives with his mother in a small house and his mother cleans homes for a living, including Marianne's palatial house. So, they are foils of each other--where Connell's mother is warm and understanding, Marianne's home life is the opposite despite the gorgeous facade.  One thing they both have in common is the fact that they are both smart and perform well in school.  Connell is an athlete and has friends, but Marianne is a bit of a social outcast.  When Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house an unlikely friendship forms between the two and their relationship turns to something more.  However, things are extremely complicated between the two of them. It would be social suicide for Connell to admit he has a relationship with Marianne, the outcast, and Marianne knows this and doesn't care. She is a bit infatuated with Connell, who appears to have it all: popularity, soccer skills, book smarts, and more. As college approaches, they both go to Trinity College in Dublin and while there their roles are reversed.  Marianne becomes the popular one with a gaggle of friends and Connell becomes a bit of a loner and a wallflower.  With this change, their relationship changes -- ebbing and flowing as the years go by.  One thing is for sure, their connection is a solid one and they find themselves gravitating towards each other despite the circumstances.  Normal People by Sally Rooney is a mesmerizing audio book that kept me totally invested in the story of two complicated, yet endearing people.  

Rooney creates such memorable characters in both Marianne and Connell.  They are very complicated, complex, but there's something about both of them that's very accessible in Normal People.  Marianne is very smart, but people don't accept her at school. She is always on the periphery, but Connell sees her for who she truly is. That doesn't mean he treats her well.  There were so many times I was furious at Connell for keeping their relationship hidden and I wanted Marianne to demand so much more as she deserves it, but things get, well, complicated.  For example, once they are at college, things change drastically as they always do.  Connell is a bit of an outcast in Marianne's world, where she has friends, intellectual conversations, and fits right in.  She tries to help Connell assimilate into the world of academia, but he struggles and, essentially, the tables have turned.

Readers can feel for Marianne and Connell despite the fact that they make poor decisions and don't communicate effectively in Normal People.  The lack of true communication has disastrous results from time to time and had me begging the characters to open up honestly for once.  Despite their blunders, they still find themselves feeling better together than apart as the years go by, but that doesn't mean they always ended up together.  Let's just say it's complicated and because it's complicated, the story can get a little depressing at times. 

The narrator of the audio book, Aoife McMahon, was decent and I found the time going by quickly when I was listening to Normal People.  I especially appreciated her authentic Irish accent.

Despite that the fact that the plot gets a bit dismal at times, I loved that Normal People examines social classes and how that impacts relationships.  It also illustrates how anxiety, the lack of communication, difficult emotions, and the need to be accepted can also have repercussions in a relationship as time goes on. Ultimately, I thought Normal People was a really thoughtful book and has the potential to be a modern classic.  

Have you read Normal People? Did you see the show on Hulu? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. 


  1. I listened to this book as well. It threw me a little bit at first as this was the second book in a row I listened to with the same narrator.

    I didn't love the book, but it was quick and it suited me to listen to at the time. I did also watch the TV series, and I did think it was a pretty good adaptation.

    1. I am really liking the show, too! It was fun to listen to the book first and then watch the show. Thanks for visiting, Marg!

  2. It's interesting how their roles change when they get to college; it would make me think that they could understand each other a little better. Sounds like a great book!

    1. It really was and the show is also excellent. Thanks for visiting, Angela!

  3. I enjoyed the book more than the TV adaptation. It was pretty well done but overhyped in my opinion. It's a repetitive story and a bit slow moving at times, which suited Rooney's writing, but didn't make for exciting TV viewing. Like the comment above, I found it interesting how their roles changed in college; I have seen that happen in real life. I guess Connell peaked in high school!

    1. I do think it was repetitive at times as well, which is probably why it took me forever to finish the TV series. It was more of the same at times. I didn't feel that way about the book though, which is an interesting point. And yes, Connell definitely peaked in high school! Thanks for visiting, Leanna!


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