I know Sally Rooney is all the rage right now so I was really looking forward to reading this book. I’m watching the TV series Normal People based on Rooney’s other book and am really liking it so far so I went into this book with the expectation that I would really like it too. And while I did like it, I’m not sure I can say I’m head-over-heels delighter over it, or even that I like it *that* much.
The first thing I notice is that the characters in this book are also very much obsessed with being smart, or take notice of such things, which is also something that came to my attention while watching the TV show Normal People. Characters speaking about how smart they are really just sort of strikes me as pretentious, maybe that’s the point but it has always been somewhat cringey for me to read or see that in the story.
What I noticed about the format of this novel that was different from other novels and that I really liked was that Rooney doesn’t use any quotation for the dialogue, which is something that I really enjoyed. I don’t know why I found this particular inane detail so refreshing, but I did, and I found myself looking forward to reading the dialogue and really liking those parts of the book, just because of the lack of quotations, lol.
Back to the content of the book. The four main characters here are basically intolerable, except for probably one character which is Bobbi, who is the main friend slash ex-girlfriend of Frances, the main character whose point of view we follow throughout the book. And even Bobbi sometimes is annoying. Also the content of this book is really depressing, this is not a light-hearted story by any account. Midway through it I was actually getting very negative emotions and feeling down, and this is not common in me, I am not usually that negatively affected by what I’m reading.
The core themes of the story are relationships, both romantic and platonic, between couples and friends. So basically the theme is love, but it is just so toxic and complicated on different fronts that I am not sure it really presents love in such a positive light or how much of a love story it really is, despite the author’s clear intentions of it being one. By the end of the book instead of feeling hopeful for the characters, I sort of felt sad at how messed up they all were and bad at how they were continuing with their negative patterns of behavior.
The main romantic relationship is intensely exploitative of the main character. I’m not sure how much of this is because the author meant it that way. But even though the whole situation is very unpalatable for the reader and even though the characters are unlikable, I would say that the book does have this interesting quality to it in which it almost dares the reader to hate the characters and the story because that would be the easy way out.
It would be easy to get on our moral high horse and pretend that we, as individuals, are not also complicated and ridiculous and hypocritical in our relationships sometimes, just like everyone is. So hating this book because of it would be the easy way out. The brave thing would be to accept these characters and understand they are flawed, and to try to see their potential to love, even though there are only scraps of actual love dispersed throughout this book.
I think I will read Sally Rooney’s other books, although I came out slightly depressed and surprised by this book in not such a good way, but I am willing to give her books another chance in case I like her other stories more. The book is well written and well crafted and entertaining to read, and this sort of makes up for the crappy mood it gets you in while reading it.