What’s the norm?

You may recall a time when there were always people who claimed to care about your well-being and yet they would make you feel miserable or uncertain about yourself. They could be someone in your family or someone with whom you were in a courtship or just someone from  your close circle of friends. You could not quite regard such company as toxic as they appeared genuine and claimed to know who you were. When you allowed yourself to break free, you finally could see things more clearly but not without much pain after going through a lot of self- doubts forging an identity that you call your own. Years and decades later, you may still feel the pains of how you have been misunderstood and  despite having evolved, you cannot help wondering if you have deluded yourself  into believing who you think you really are when they might have been right about you. As I age, all these self-doubts might remain but they gradually become unimportant because I know that identity is fluid and it is overrated. I believe that there are many facets of each individual and we are different and yet not that different from one another. We should not allow anyone to stifle our growth and willingness to explore. While these associates or friends might not have been toxic in the strict sense, they might have liked to pigeonhole you for their own convenience without them even realizing it. Ideally one should be strong enough not to be bothered by whatever judgments others throw at you and you should allow yourself to think how you want to see yourself otherwise you lose track of what you think and end up not knowing what you think. You are what you are and it is okay to be you.

In Normal People written by Sally Rooney, Marianne is from a wealthy and privileged background and she is the smartest girl in school. She has no friends and she spends her lunchtime alone reading novels. Connell Waldron is smart and popular in school. His mother, Lorraine works as a cleaner at Marianne’s home. Lorraine goes to Marianne’s house twice a week. The story is about the  all- consuming connection between Marianne and Connell  who are both complex and intelligent, their relationship starts with a conversation that takes place in Marianne’s kitchen one evening as  Connell waits for his mother to finish her work. Marianne obviously finds the school environment oppressive. Both Marianne and Connell attend County Sligo. 

 ‘Marianne’s classmates all seem to like school so much and find it normal. To dress in the same uniform every day, to comply at all times with arbitrary rules, to be scrutinised and monitored for misbehaviour, this is normal to them. They have no sense of the school as an oppressive environment. Marianne had a row with the History teacher, Mr Kerrigan, last year because he caught her looking out a window during class, and no one in the class took her side.’

Both Marianne and Connell will be leaving Carricklea for tertiary education. Marianne applies to do history and politics at Trinity and encourages Connell to do English at Trinity since he reads all the time. They both end up going to Trinity College, Dublin but they are not together. At  Trinity college, Marianne is popular. She becomes a chic, urban intellectual and a flirt. Connell can’t afford the right clothes and finds it almost impossible to fit in with his middle-class collegemates. As Marianne and Connell try to stay apart, they continue to weave in and out of each other’s lives. 

Marianne appears remote and independent minded but you feel tenderness and pain for her self- destructive streaks in light of her unhappy home. Connell likes to make attempts to fit in wherever he goes and is anxious to find out how to act normal. It is a coming of age story that reminds me about growing up and struggling to forge an identity and finally recognizing that we cannot change who we are. 

Sally Rooney has a sharp eye for describing all those tiny nuances about the  interaction between people and also the dynamics between two young persons who desire to be loved and somehow either do the hurting or be hurt. 

Normal People is definitely an engaging read.  A year ago, I read Sally Rooney‘s debut novel, Conversations with Friends click. That is another satisfying read. Sally Rooney is indeed a young contemporary writer to be reckoned with in light of her intelligent and acute observations of human emotion, choices that we have made during the confusing time of youth.   


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