Starting university, or embarking on a new academic year sees the potential for a fresh start. No university year is the same as another and the ups and downs of new adulthood are inevitable. Sally Rooney’s Normal People is a staple read for every young person entering the adult world today. Admittedly this isn’t a niche recommendation; it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t heard of the book or TV series. However, there’s a reason it has been described as a ‘modern classic’: through the intertwining lives of Marianne and Connell, Rooney explores responsive themes of love, social class, mental health and identity. These are all a large part of our university years, as we see the protagonists try to navigate.
Rooney explores responsive themes of love, social class, mental health and identity.
The book introduces Connell and Marianne during their school years, allowing for us to see their personal development as they progress to university and beyond. The pair met through attending the same school, but also through Connell’s mother who is employed as a cleaner for Marianne’s family. Immediately, we see Rooney introduce this social-class dynamic and how it builds an often subconscious wall between the protagonists, Connell feeling almost inferior to Marianne. Entering university, a much bigger setting than school opens our eyes to new groups of people. Rooney provides this empathetic insight into both ends of the class spectrum in both the academic and social setting.
At school, this divide is flipped on its head, as Connell finds popularity amongst peers whilst Marianne is viewed as an outsider. Indeed, she views herself in this manner too: “Marianne had the sense that her real life was happening somewhere very far away, happening without her, and she didn’t know if she would ever find out where it was or become part of it.” This is something that many people at school or university will be able to sympathise with: not necessarily knowing what they want to do and where they fit in. It can take a while to adjust and re-adjust to university life, questioning whether you’ve made the right decision academically or socially with whom you choose to spend time.
This is something that many people at school of university will be able to sympathise with: not necessarily knowing what they want to do and where they fit in.
Sure enough, when Marianne reaches university she becomes a budding socialite, finding friendship circles with similar social backgrounds to herself. It is Connell, now, who struggles to find his place in the elite academic social circles custom to university life.
Whether new to university or returning for another year, Normal People is an essential read or even re-read in that it encapsulates what it means to be young and question yourself in new environments. Uncertainty and unpredictability are given; learning to navigate this brings its ups and downs but can also form a fun, unique and beautiful experience.