Going into this book, I didn’t have much idea as to what I was expecting. Last year I had heard about “Normal People” quite a lot, with a fair share of mixed reviews going both this way and that on whether this book was absolute garbage or it was a literary masterpiece.
The cover itself is pretty underwhelming. I got this book on my phone in it’s Kindle version so I did not hold a copy of this book in my hands. The cover I’ve become used to seeing is the one with the green outline of a face at the top with the blue face at the bottom. At first I really liked this cover. To me it was very simplistic, and I liked the approach to a simplistic romance novel. There is also a cover in which a can of sardines is being open and when it’s pulled back you catch a glimpse of the two characters being in the middle of the can of sardines, held within a loving embrace. I also liked the sardine cover because it showed that perhaps this relationship would be developed in concealment. Like there was depth and hidden meaning beyond what was to be seen just from the front of the tin can. I enjoyed that thought as well, so already I was pretty enamored with the book just by the sheer basis of the front cover.
Now that we’re passed the front cover though, this is perhaps where things become a bit interesting, because now we begin to see things being pulled off into layers as we begin to start going through the book.
I will say, personally for me the hardest chapter to get through was the first few chapters. The author had chosen the unique approach to omit any punctuation that would be for dialogue, so there is no sound brackets, there is no punctuation to allow for a reader to understand that someone else is now talking. This style of writing is done purposefully, and my guess would be the author deliberately is trying to slow the reader down. If English isn’t your first language, it may take longer for you to break everything down a bit more and this may be where a lot of the bad reviews come in because without the dialogue we are left to focus on the other subliminal cues within the text to fully understand the story.
Beyond the first few chapters though, the ball really gets rolling after that. The chapters are very short and the novel itself is very short.
Another slightly confusing but deliberate decision made by the author is to have a time jump at the beginning of every chapter. This time jump can take us a couple of weeks into the future or six months have passed since the main couple has ran into one another. This is also another very complex moment that will slow down the average reader, because I even had to take a few steps back a few times to understand what was going on before moving forward with caution because we’re either thrown in the thralls of something exciting happening, or another major event has just happened and we’re seeing the reactions of the characters involved. This is another very interesting chance the writer takes. To me this is really where the novel starts taking a turn for the positive in my book, as I am now being drawn into the lives of two strangers and am seeing the action of events as they are happening or are singularly reflecting on the events after they have taken place.
Now that I’ve discussed some of the structural issues and the time jumps, let me get into the juicy details of the plot, because here’s where it comes to the steamy debates.
Every genre of literature has its tropes, but not every genre is as dependent on it’s tropes as the romance genre is. To be dependent on the well versed tropes isn’t a bad thing; they’re well-known equations that work for people, and when it comes to romance people like to read about their favorite tropes. Women like to fantasize about the tropes they themselves find the most appealing. Love triangles? Falling for the best friend? People coming from different sides of the tracks and fall in love? These tropes have been working for centuries, and even if you’re not a reader of romance or chick-lit these tropes are pretty familiar in pop culture.
At first, this book is filled with tropes. Popular boy falls for the social pariah in high school. Boy/girl goes away to college and their social status becomes flipped as socioeconomic status takes precedence in the real world. Boy and girl come and go in and out of each other’s lives without ever really falling out of love with one another in the first place despite how much time passes.
However, from the moment Connell and Marianne become partners, there’s some things that automatically should make the reader take a pause. From the moment they begin to hook up, there’s an undeniable power difference within the relationship. Marianne is not allowed to discuss what her and Connell are doing. Connell continues to allow for his friends to treat Marianne as they always have out of the guise that if he says anything then he’ll be marginalized too. This power balance only continues to grow stronger throughout their lives, and it becomes apparent at least to me that Connell and Marianne seem to have a co-dependent relationship with one another and who seem to seek to isolate themselves further from the other people around them.
With “Normal People”, it leaves a lot of people questioning on whether or not this is even a romance book at the end of the day. Where is the love? Where is the passion? Is this the future of where love is taking us?
The thing that bothered me the most about their relationship is the fact that despite knowing each other for almost a decade at the book’s completion, is they’re still never really on the same page when it comes to their relationship. Despite swearing that nobody else knows them better, they always have a gross communication that always ends up breaking down their relationship in the end just so that they can come back together further down the road once more.
Perhaps the main reason the author had wrote this book was to begin this discussion on how we really miscommunicate within our relationships. This isn’t a feel-good romance story after all. This isn’t a trope book. This is a realistic relationship, between two people who are still trying to find their place in life.
After finishing this book, I had to take a few days time to really sit back and ponder on what I thought about it. Then I had to delve more into what other people were thinking about this book just so I was able to fully give my opinion on it to do it any justice because honestly, this book left me a little bit at a loss for words.
I think at the end of the day, I enjoyed this book a lot personally. I enjoyed the radical and different approach it took to the romance genre, despite me not knowing much beyond the foundations of what romance genres really are meant to be all about. I enjoyed the commentary, and I enjoyed having to take a moment just to really think and digest what it was exactly I was meant to be getting out of this book.
At the end of the day, I give this book 4/5 stars.
This novel is worth trying to read, but I can see why it’s not going to be for everyone and why some people may never even make it past the first chapter, and that’s per