Zooming in on Normal People A message from the ELTA-Rhine Literature Group aka Book Club
Dear Members, Sorry you couldn't join our first online meeting to discuss Normal People by Sally Rooney. This time the technology functioned (last Sunday Zoom was down and we had to postpone the meeting) although it was temporarily interrupted in the middle by Zoom's time limit and various members had technical difficulties of their own (including my laptop crashing twice). It was certainly a different experience, with people trying to talk at the same time and longish silences, but I think in the end we can say it worked - certainly better than no meeting at all, as someone put it.
The general consensus on the book seemed to be surprise at the praise it has received. Some found it an enjoyable read with interesting elements but no one was as unreservedly enthusiastic as some reviewers seem to be and the sales figures suggest. One question was how realistic the story was. Are the characters credible? Could an unsociable Marianne really morph into such a socialite at university? Could Connell be so popular and so much "one of the (sexist) lads" at school and yet be so shy and sensitive with Marianne? Why is Marianne's family so hateful and oppressive? Here, indeed, we were disappointed that at the end of the book Sally Rooney hadn't thrown so much more light on the Sheridan family that we could understand why Marianne had become both abrasive and masochistic.
We learnt with some astonishment that the author had wanted to write an essentially Marxist work. While there are references to social injustice, the hero and heroine may indeed find their different class backgrounds a hindrance, and there are suitably Marxist stereotypes in a number of the upper class figures, real political issues seem to be kept firmly distant as we follow the highly un-Marxist concentration on two very individual fates.
There were some attractive aspects to the writing. The narrative structure, with each chapter setting us down in Marianne's and Connell's lives at a new juncture and letting us learn what has occurred in the meantime, maintains a good pace. We enjoyed the author's imagery and turns of phrase - for instance, in the novel's last paragraph - although there were also sentences where the lessons learnt at writers' school clearly shone through.
We wondered who the book particularly appealed to, perhaps a younger audience? We asked whether it was particularly Irish, but though we liked learning about growing up in the Republic, it didn't seem to be a story that couldn't have happened elsewhere. In the end, we speculated on how Marianne and Connell's story might continue, as for the BBC series it may indeed have to do. Is marriage imminent? Will they go their separate ways, stay just good friends, and maybe, like Charles and Camilla, find happiness together at a later juncture in their busy lives? Only time will tell ... Looking forward to seeing you at 4 p.m. on August 9th to discuss The Golden Bowl by Henry James. We’ll probably meet in Rheinbach but might have to be online again so contact me in good time for the exact venue.
Best wishes Graham
Tel.: 0221 / 720 1544