NORMAL PEOPLE is a slow, sweet, quiet love story. I bought it because the author has been hyped as one of the leading writers of her generation (she’s 28), and perhaps she is. I do believe that her psychological analyses are brilliant, and Lord knows, she is a competent writer. A riveting plotter? Not so much. But then, plotting is not the point of this book.
Set in Ireland, the story is of Marianne and Connell – she from a wealthy but dysfunctional family, he from a poor, single parent one. His mother, barely 17 when Connell was born but loving, is hired to clean Maryanne’s family home, which is how the two meet. They become best friends as teens, carrying on the most laconic discussions imaginable in her family kitchen. This evolves, eventually, into the sweetest, most innocent and soulful sex in her bedroom. Their relationship Is a secret one; neither breathes word about it outside her house for reasons of pride and social standing.
We follow them from high school, where Connell is the revered jock and Marianne is considered odd, to university. There the tables turn; Marianne is in her element while Connell is the awkward, social inferior. Though they meet others and experiment with friendship, sex, and drugs, they inevitably return to each other as if for a refueling to fortify them against the outside world.
What did I love about NORMAL PEOPLE? Its quietness. The under-spoken nature of the story’s telling. The description of location, from rural county Sligo in west Ireland to Dublin, the country’s heart. Connell’s sweetness toward Marianne during sex. His mother’s spunk.
What I didn’t I love? The slowness of these two characters’ realization that they do love each other. They seemed positively dense at times. Because the reader has to live through all their mistakes (made over and over, it seems), this book is dark.
I did love the Irish brogue of the audiobook reader. But that wasn’t enough to keep my frustration at bay. I suspect I’d have been happier reading this book in print, where I might have sped it up a bit.
That said, I do recommend NORMAL PEOPLE. It’s a love story in an age where people are at the same time more connected and farther apart – sad in a way, but perhaps a window on reality?