I watched the show before reading the book, and at the beginning of the book I felt like the show was better. I felt more emotion on behalf of Connell in the show, I was sure he loved Marianne, but in the book I wasn’t so sure. But then as the book progressed and the characters began their respective arcs I did start liking the book more than I did the show, and I did feel and understand Connell’s depth of feeling and his lack of emotional maturity to express it.
It is very important to take into account that Marianne comes from a psychologically abusive household and that Connell suffers from chronic, low-level anxiety and a low emotional EQ to be able to understand their characters and actions. In fact this is where the title of the book comes from. Both Marianne and Connell want to be “normal people” and feel like there’s something wrong with them, different forms of mental illnesses.
Mental illness is a constant theme in Sally Rooney’s books, particularly depression. In Conversations with Friends there was also a character which suffered from a deep, almost life-ending depression, and Connell struggles with this in Normal People as well. Overall, Normal People has less political undertones than Conversations with Friends, which is one of the things I most enjoyed in that first book. Just as in Conversations with Friends, I found the political aspects of the book really interesting, like when they discuss the merits and demerits of capitalism and how joining the labor force by getting a job can be a bit soul crushing. Also Sally Rooney’s novels in general explore sexuality and the role it plays not only in our relationships but in our sense of self, into our own identity, and Normal People is no exception.
Sally Rooney’s shining glory in this book is that she is able to so clearly distinguish right from wrong, and in doing so, she redeems Love. There is one moment towards the end of the book when Marianne finally stands up for herself in which we can see this very clearly. Rooney said that CWF was a love story but NP is much more so. This is her better novel between the two. It is intricate, it is complex, it is uplifting where her first novel was only depressing. I am excited to read her latest work, Beautiful World, Where are You? It’s supposed to be her best yet.