Normal People is a novel about complicated connections, feelings, class, and modern millennial life. Marianne and Connell grew up in the same small town in Ireland, seemingly very different people. But they start to connect, and then when they end up going to the same university in Dublin, their complicated relationship continues to weave its way around their lives and their own personal issues.
The third person narrative moves between Connell and Marianne’s point of view, sometimes to devastating effect as it displays tiny misunderstandings in their relationship and how people, even those who feel deeply connected, can talk and act at cross purposes. The chapters jump forward in time, giving the length of time between each part in a way that feels strangely conversational and real. As with Rooney’s earlier Conversations with Friends, the narrative is mostly focused on interpersonal relationships, arguments, and detail about human emotion and messed up people. Underneath is a strong current of class, money, and politics, as well as mental health.
Again, like Rooney’s debut novel, Normal People is a book about millennials that will appeal to millennials, or at least a book about being flawed and moving from your late teens to early twenties without direction. It is a melancholy book, but also one that makes you hope for better communication, for the world to be better.