FICTION

Normal People

Crown: Hogarth. Apr. 2019. 272p. ISBN 9781984822178. $26. F
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OrangeReviewStarMarianne and Connell attend the same secondary school in Carricklea, a small town in Sligo, Ireland. The popular Connell, captain of the football team and a promising scholar, is the son of a single mother who cleans house for Marianne's mother. Marianne, bullied by her financially well-off family, occupies the lowest rung of the school's social ladder but outshines all of her peers academically. Though they avoid each other in public, Marianne and Connell share an intense emotional bond reinforced by secrecy and sex. Over several years, both will test and undermine this fierce and sometimes disturbing attachment. As the intimacy between Marianne and Connell evolves over time, they seem to identify and embrace varying degrees of self-worth from their powerful regard for each other, which may depend on a mutual acceptance of the social, economic, and emotional inequalities they have at different times embraced and exploited at their own and each other's expense.
VERDICT This brilliantly nuanced second novel fulfills the promise evident in the stunning debut, Conversations with Friends, as Rooney once again portrays to dazzling effect intelligent young adults who negotiate social roles and scenarios reinforcing power structures that, for better or worse, define relationships. Marianne and Connell are unforgettable characters, alluring and sympathetic, and Rooney is a formidable talent. A major literary achievement. [See Prepub Alert, 10/15/18.]

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