Normal People Tried Too Hard to be Special

normal peopleThis is kinda awkward because I completely forgot that I said I’d never read this… But when I saw it was available on Overdrive, I didn’t remember that and curiosity got the better of me. Whoops. And the worst part about that is, as I predicted, it wasn’t for me. Initially I was quite struck with the story and got really into reading it- sadly by the end I thought it was a pretty pedestrian literary-prize-bait. Go figure.

In fairness, I did find the opening chapters quite promising. I thought the way it handled bullying and captured feelings of isolation was realistic. And I could see why the two lovebirds couldn’t just be with each other… at first. The problem was the story got very samey after a while. I normally don’t have a problem with the miscommunication trope, but it was the constant mix-ups that started to grate on my nerves and make me question why can’t you just act like normal people? Why do you have to bring other people into your drama?

In that vein, it seemed like part of their “specialness” was that they were dysfunctional. Because as the title suggests, these aren’t Normal People. No, they’re the most *special snowflakes*: Marianne is “not like other girls” and Connell is “not like other boys”. Although, they’re both pretty much like every pretentious person with a humanities degree I’ve ever met. They’re the kind of people you feel bad for, cos no one likes them, but you also secretly get why, cos you don’t like them either. They’re the kind of insufferably pretentious people that get to call work a “social construct”, cos for them the concept is demeaning (and they have the luxury of being picky). And they’re the kind of egotistical people that never have to recognise they’re the ones in the wrong.

That’s the most infuriating part about the book. Both of the leads have pretty flat character arcs, never truly having to experience failure and brushing off most criticism (just to make the same mistakes). And amazingly, even though they constantly cheat on people and live only for themselves, it’s the world around them that’s messed up. Unlike the best stories with an unchanging protagonist, no one in the story is inspired to change- because who would be inspired by them? This lack of growth seems rooted in Rousseau’s “people are born perfect” philosophy aka society is the corrupting factor (conveniently alleviating culpability for terrible people). Which brings me onto my next problem…

The damn politics. Okay, we all know I’m biased and hate politics randomly inserted into my fiction… but guys this was on a whole new level of stupid. Cos these characters that are the kind of idiots people that think dictators like Castro are cool. Nothing says progressive like firing squads, amiright? 😉 Also, Connell is casually a Marxist, because obviously we need more positive representations of Marxists in the media (to wipe out all the blood they’ve spilled in the last 100 years). We wouldn’t want anyone getting the wrong idea (that they’re just as murderous as Nazis). Sorry, not in the mood to be a Marxist-apologist right now. Not with the harm that this ideology *continues* to do. On the funnier side, this also had the Trinity College free speech society actually inviting a Neo Nazi Holocaust denier- which was such a strawman way of dismissing people who are pro-free speech that I found it kinda amusing.

conversations with friendOn the plus side, I did think this was infinitely more readable than Conversations With Friendsyet had a lot of the same pitfalls. There’s still no speech marks and no reason for it. I suppose if Rooney used them, the writing would lose its “specialness”, and we don’t want that. Because there’s not much else to report on the writing front. As with her other work, I didn’t get much of a sense of place, just felt like I was told we were in Ireland. On that note, Rooney did explore telling in an interesting way, having us find out Connell has depression from his filling in a form… which is different I guess (though not necessarily good).

fifty shades of greyI wasn’t impressed with much else in the book. As I mentioned, the main characters are *special*, so that kinda makes everyone else surplus to requirements (because, don’t you know, when you’re the hero, the rest of the world just revolves around you?) Even the subplot about an old friend’s suicide is there to make you feel sorry for the main character (the guy that died and his family are only visible in the periphery). Worse still, subplots like domestic abuse were explored in a superficial way with cartoonish perpetrators. I also hated the fact it was linked to sadomasochism (because apparently we’ve not moved past Fifty Shades of Grey). I also thought that Lorraine was barely sketched out- ironically for a leftist work, she is merely identifiable as a mother and cleaning lady. How forward-thinking.

Much like the book, I’m going to end on a lacklustre note, not with a bang, but the whimper of a deflating balloon. It was better for me than Conversations with Friends– however not by much.

Rating: 2/5 bananas

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So, dare I ask, have you read Rooney’s work? Did you enjoy it? Do you have different perspective? Let me know in the comments either way!

46 thoughts on “Normal People Tried Too Hard to be Special

  1. Haha, I’ve also said, I’m never going to read this – and opposite you, I am going to stick with it! 😋 I enjoyed reading your review, though, and many of the things you say about the characters completely confirm why I wouldn’t get on with them.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. The level of snark in this review is hilarious and I’m here for it XD Yeah, I don’t think anybody is in the mood to be a Marxist apologist right now, except for the actual Marxists 😛 And I love that you managed to bring in both Roseau and 50 Shades. Amazing work XD

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Aaaand this is why I don’t read much literary fiction. It always seems to be about privileged people complaining about how hard it is to be themselves, and how they feel so whatever they feel in this empty world. Or something. And then they have sex. Or just want to have sex, but can’t because miscommunication and existentialism. But hey, the writing is pretty, even if nothing happens.

    I’ll stick with my SFF books, thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah YES!! That is the problem exactly!! (There were so many points in the book when I was just thinking, but what do you have to complain about?! I properly lost all sympathy when they were complaining about having to get jobs after uni!! I mean, how entitled can you get?) Hahaha yes you summarised the book so well!! 😂😂😂

      Good call! Books like this make me regret trying!

      Like

  4. I COMPLETELY agree with you on this, I read it recently with high hopes and was utterly disappointed. It just didn’t do anything for me, and if I am being honest, I already forgot a lot about it.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. This book was such an odd experience for me. I cannot think of any other way to describe than like watching a train wreck. These two were a mess, and I never understood the decisions they made, and then the end!!! Don’t even get me started. Even with all that ire, I found myself totally absorbed in this book.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Haha oh yeah that makes sense!! They were a mess and that ending… Not good!! But I do understand being absorbed in it- I was for a while (more so than her other book that I hated from the start) but somewhere along the way this lost me as well and I struggled to pick it up

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I agree with your review. I was expecting to be blow away, but was incredibly bored throughout the entire thing. Why does everyone love it so much?

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I AM OBSESSED WITH YOUR TAKE ON THIS OMG!!! Now to be fair, I haven’t yet read the book because after reading a few reviews on it, I decided I would just rather forgo it altogether and watch the series. While I semi-enjoyed it, and would it give maybe a 3/5, I had a lot of the same issues you did. With the first two episodes, I was like hm, maybe I should have read the book, and then I quickly decided that I wasn’t really going to miss much. Seems I was right :’)
    I don’t think it came across in the show that Connell was a Marxist, or that Castro seemed cool, because if it did, that went straight over my head, and it would have properly annoyed me. Because excuse me, um WUT. But that free-speech neo-Nazi thing made it in, and I was like oh, c’mon, give me a big old break.
    And omg, RETWEET about how tiring the “society is always to blame” narrative is. (That was a poorly constructed sentence, sorry haha.) AND YES ABOUT LORRAINE TOO.
    I just love love love everything you wrote here!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha thank you!! Definitely a good call to skip it! Oh it literally comes up in the book a few times that connell is a Marxist!! And it’s said in this really affectionate way, like he’s decided to do something kooky or is really into yoga! And yeah him and his mum discuss how he likes Castro!! (Interesting that the show skipped that out- perhaps even the BBC, who it was commissioned for I think, thought that was too far). And yeah that part about the free speech society was so stupid I thought it was funny (I’ve actually met some people who run those kinds of clubs and they were liberal democrats- which in UK politics is moderate left wingers… So not exactly fans of Nazis!)
      Haha I agree!! So stupid!!
      Ah glad you agree about Lorraine!! (I thought her portrayal was funny too, given the intent of the book)
      Thank you so much!!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Ive heard so many people rave about this book, but I’ve never seen the appeal behind it. I’m just not interested in reading it and to be honest, it sounds like the most frustrating reading experience and I don’t need that stress haha.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Something has stopped me from actually reading Normal People and Conversations with Friends for the longest time, I am still not sure what it is. I have read a couple of chapters of Normal People but they didn’t stick with me enough to make me want to read it. I doubt it’s gonna change anytime soon. Great review though!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Holy shit, this sounds like the worst book ever. Thank you for sparing me from reading it. Ugh. Why is Marxism getting its slimy mitts over everything these days? Yeah, nothing says cool like a dude who systematically murdered thousands of innocent people….give me a f@#king break.

    I feel as though I know these characters and not in a good way. They’re like every neck-beardy Master’s degree writing student ever. Hard pass lol.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I agree with almost everything you said here, particularly the sense of place. The lack of it makes the characters feel even more self-absorbed.

        It was also frustrating reading a book so heavily laced with the author’s progressive politics, I got the feeling she was deigning to bestow is with a good-hearted male character in Connell, as if such a thing could possibly exist in reality.

        That said the way it explores power in an intimate relationship was interesting I thought.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ah yes that’s a good point!! I feel like the characters come across as though they believe they’re the centre of the universe (despite all their supposed ideals) if there was a sense of place and other people, it would have lessened that.
          And yes, I agree- I found it very irritating.
          And I do get that- there were things about it that kept me absorbed. And I think that it could have been an interesting insight into a more modern relationship- except that I also kind of felt that they both sucked so much by the end that I could no longer root for them.

          Liked by 2 people

  11. I agree with almost everything you said here, particularly the sense of place. The lack of it makes the characters feel even more self-absorbed.

    It was also frustrating reading a book so heavily laced with the author’s progressive politics, I got the feeling she was deigning to bestow is with a good-hearted male character in Connell, as if such a thing could possibly exist in reality.

    That said the way it explores power in an intimate relationship was interesting I thought.

    Liked by 1 person

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