Heaps of praises and love have adorned Sally Rooney’s second novel, Normal People, along with its Emmy-nominated adapted series of the same title streaming in Hulu. The raising pile of critical acclaim has made readers curious with an avalanche of expectations on both media.
As a reader who loves to be challenged with new narratives and genres that aren’t in my comfort zone, Normal People did not disappoint with its millennial perspective on insecurity, normality, and identity to the coming-of-age genre. It’s an intimate and psychologically complicated yet astute love story between two sensitive people that will mostly appeal to readers across genders and generations.
I guess what truly makes this novel a critical favorite is because of its honesty. Through a third-person narrative, Rooney was able to convincingly incorporate personal insecurities and class differences complicating the relationship between the two characters, in alternative perspectives. What makes it even more endearing is the intimate way it was written --- without the use of quote marks, thoughts and dialogue run all together making it a challenge for readers who aren’t used with this writing style. However, this aspect is what makes Normal People so greatly poignant. The absence of quote marks in the narrative sweeps you away with the characters’ deep psychological insights into each other or into events that involve them. It provides so many nuances into the characters that it was surprising to see how much of it was also translated into the screen.
Among many other things, Rooney has several themes that come into play in both the book and adaptation: issues on class, privilege, emotional and physical abuse, depression, and passivity. The central focus of the book/series is an echo to what young adults or millenials have been struggling with: navigating the wavering grounds of love and intimacy in a world of economic uncertainty threatened by political disruptions, climate change, social issues, and questions on morality. What personally hit me the most was how academically gifted both characters are, but they’re uncertain how they want to live their lives because of insecurity born out of missed opportunities, complexities, and mistakes. So much of these themes echo to the youth that Rooney just brilliantly nails every single one of them.
Frequently heart wrenching, both the book and show will punch through your gut as it captures the graceful narrative that Rooney pulls off in both pieces of media. It’s a nuanced, heartbreaking yet hopeful love story about two young people who understand each other and open themselves to moments of joy despite divided by social status and their personal demons. This book (along with its adaptation) will mostly be appreciated by people who are gifted but are burned out, by dreamers who feel caught up by time while unfulfilled aspirations lag away, and by readers who constantly wade through the world of adulthood but are gripped with existential anxiety --- this book will feel like a letter from an old friend you haven’t seen in years, one that sees and understands you. I couldn’t recommend it more.