stats
globeinteractive.com: Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /globeandmail.com
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space


Search

space
  This site         Tips

  
space
  The Web Google
space
   space



space

  Where to Find It


Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business

  Sports

  Technology

space
Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store


Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business

  National

  International

  Sports

  Arts & Entertainment

  Editorials

  Columnists

   Headline Index

 Other Sections
  Appointments

  Births & Deaths

  Books

  Classifieds

  Comment

  Education

  Environment

  Facts & Arguments

  Focus

  Health

  Obituaries

  Real Estate

  Review

  Science

  Style

  Technology

  Travel

  Wheels

 Leisure
  Cartoon

  Crosswords

  Food & Dining

  Golf

  Horoscopes

  Movies

  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...

space

Services
   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site

 Newspaper
  Advertise

  Corrections

  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us

  Reprints

  Subscriptions

 Web Site
  Advertise

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


GiveLife.ca

    

PRINT EDITION
Millennial love story
space
Sally Rooney keeps Normal People hopeful even as the story grapples with issues of class and misogyny
space
By STEPHANIE NOLEN
  
  

Email this article Print this article
Saturday, April 20, 2019 – Page R14

Normal People

BY S ALLY ROONEY KNOPF CANADA, 288 PAGES

There has been a mountain of media coverage of Sally Rooney and her two novels, coverage that inevitably includes (let's get this out of the way) the assertion that she is "the first great millennial novelist," and also that she's Irish, and a feminist, and a Marxist. All of which likely gives you an image of the 28-yearold Rooney as something of a radical. Yet the writer whose work most echoes in my mind when I read Rooney is the decidedly unradical Alice Munro. As with Munro, Rooney weaves a whole story out of a collection of moments of intimacy; she builds terrible suspense out of social blunders, small betrayals, waves of selfdoubt. She puts small acts of domesticity on centre stage; in the wings lurks darkness.

Rooney made the Man Booker Prize long list last year for her second book, Normal People. As with her first, Conversations with Friends, this is a love story: We follow Marianne and Connell from the time they're a teenage hookup fraught with embarrassment, through four years of breakups and reunions while they study at Trinity College in Dublin and then venture out into the world. Rooney soon has us convinced that they must end up together, although they're too dumb to see it.

She narrates the story in the third person, but flips back and forth between a close telling from each of Marianne's and Connell's perspectives, and she inhabits them both fully - so that when Connell, the popular athlete, and Marianne, the social outcast, start having sex in their last year of high school and he forbids her to tell anyone at school, then asks a popular girl to the prom hours after Marianne leaves his bed, you hate him. But you also wince on his behalf, because he's so desperately trying to figure out how to be in the world, and so hyperconscious of the external gaze, that you understand why he cannot possibly have it be public knowledge that he has sex with Marianne and that he cares for her.

Much has been made of Rooney's calm statements about her Marxism, and class is one backdrop of this book. Connell and Marianne are first brought together because his mother cleans the "mansion" where Marianne lives with her mother and brother. At various points, he believes she may have ended their relationship because of his inferior social standing; she, with the comfort of the privileged, doesn't think about it at all.

The only label that Rooney, born in 1991, is given more frequently than the other M-word is "millennial" and her characters have a lack of engagement with ideas of career and ambition and work that may seem alien to older readers. Marianne asks a friend "if she finds it strange, to be paid for her hours at work - to exchange, in other words, blocks of her extremely limited time on this earth for the human invention known as money." But this isn't laziness; it's the clear-eyed reckoning of young people who have grown up in postcrash Ireland and see nothing worth investing in because it all just falls apart anyway.

But what Rooney paints with even greater skill than the hollowness of capitalism is misogyny.

Casual, internalized, universal.

The book is a conventional heterosexual romance on one level and a long meditation on submission, desire, gender and self-hatred on another. We begin to learn about the violence Marianne has endured, through sex - her first boyfriend after Connell is a sadist and she casually confides to Connell, who is horrified, about how the new guy likes to hit and choke her when they're in bed. Marianne is grappling with all of this; Connell can't fathom it. "It's not that I get off on being degraded as such," she tells him. "I just like to know that I would degrade myself for someone if they wanted me to." Later, she adds, "You're not really submitting to someone if you only submit to things you enjoy."

When she finds herself socially exiled at Trinity, she accepts it comfortably. When she finds her way back to Connell, the third time, she realizes she gets something else from him - but she's not sure what it is. "He understood it wasn't necessary to hurt her: he could let her submit willingly, without violence. This all seemed to happen on the deepest level of her personality. But on what level did it happen to him? Was it just a game, or a favour he was doing her? Did he feel it, the way she did?" Slowly, Rooney shades in the ominous atmosphere inside Marianne's family home - her abusive brother and the mother who tells her she deserves it, her dead father who also hit her. The scenes where her brother stalks her are nauseating with menace. But Rooney gives the violence the same or even less weight than she does the emotional conflicts, and by handling it so matter-of-factly, she makes its ubiquity clear.

Through the whole book, Marianne - whose outward confidence and sense of self Connell desperately envies - is reckoning with whether she has any redeeming features, whether she deserves happiness. "Deep down she knows she is a bad person, corrupted, wrong, and all her efforts to be right, to have the right opinions, to say the right things, these efforts only disguise what is buried inside her, the evil part of herself," Rooney writes. But is that why she wants to debase herself in bed? Is that the only reason a feminist with total certainty of her intellectual superiority might want to submit? None of this is straightforward in Normal People - sex and power and desire - it's murky, the way it is to live it.

In spite of the current of darkness that runs through the book, Normal People is weirdly hopeful.

Marianne and Connell want to be "better," to be good people - a desire so quaint as to be novel, and for a reader, a deeply satisfying thing to root for.

Associated Graphic

Sally Rooney was longlisted for last year's Man Booker Prize for Normal People, the second book she's had published. DAVIES JONNY


Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main Andrew_Willis Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail
 

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement
space

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.

Advertisement

7-Day Site Search
    

Breaking News



Today's Weather


Inside

Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes


Editorial
Where Manley is going with his first budget




space

Columnists



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.

 National


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
space
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
space
Margaret Wente arrow
Counterpoint
space
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game
space
 Business


Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
space
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
space
Mathew Ingram arrow
space
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
space
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
space
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
space
Andrew Willis arrow
Streetwise
space
 Sports


Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
space
Eric Duhatschek arrow
space
Allan Maki arrow
space
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
space
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
Golf
space
 The Arts


John Doyle arrow
Television
space
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
space
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
space
Johanna Schneller arrow
Moviegoer
space
 Comment


Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
space
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
space
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
space
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
space
Paul Knox arrow
Worldbeat
space
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
space
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
space
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
space
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
space
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
space
William Thorsell arrow
space





Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page