What does it mean to be normal?

Este texto é a tradução para o Inglês da resenha escrita por Carlos originalmente em Português. O trabalho foi gentilmente realizado por Francis Woodrow, parceiro do Lombada. Para conhecer seu perfil de tradutor, clique aqui

Young Irish writter, Sally Rooney, has been introduced for some time now since her first novel, Conversations With Friends, was published in Brazil in 2017 by Alfaguara. And, lo and behold, Normal People show up on our blog partner’s catalogue: Companhia das Letras. I decided to venture
reading it under the impression that I would be experiencing something written for adolescents, though it wouldn’t be a problema at all.

So, I began reading the story.

Pessoas normaisI started living with Connell and Marianne, childhood friends in a small dull town to the north of Ireland. Both study in the same school and pretend they don’t know each other. But they do. More than anyone in that school could possibly imagine. Marianne is well born. Lives with her mother, a widow, in a house that we could call a mansion. Connel also lives with his mother in what is considered to be a popular house know by “Minha Casa, Minha Vida” in Brazil. On top of that, Connel’s mother – his father is one of the many child droppers -, is a maid at Marianne’s house. That is the how the teenagers get to spend time together. Connel frequently goes to Marianne’s . They talk and have their afternoon coffee, but, at school, they ignore one another.

Wealthy and well positioned in the small local high society Marianne is a rebel without a cause. She often isolates herself, avoiding social interaction, is always a target for nasty games at school. The so called bullying. Connel, despite his humble origins, is a good sports athlete, widely fought over by the girls and very popular. Both are good students and outstand, each one for their singularities, for their high grades and tending to have a promising future in good colleges.

Within this apparent indifference, the discovery of sexuality draws close to Connel and Marianne. They begin having sex in absolute secrecy. Towards school community, they belong to different classes. If we can consider that Marianne does have a group in which she belongs to.

Sally Rooney built this story with some time skips. The novel begins in January 2011 and comes to an end in February 2015. These time skips are ingenious for the narratives once they break the linear storytelling with intervals. Each new time lapse holds important changes to the characters’ lives causing the reader to feel alarmed and surprised. This is true because at the end of every chapter the reader feels an urging tickle to go on to the next chapter due to the fact that we end up not being aware of the events that took place by the end of a chapter and the beginning of the next one and something relevant has certainly happened. 

Also, the way the dialogues are filled in with their thought flow is noticeable. One says “I love you”, the other thinks and questions him or herself, “Is it true?”, before replying “Me too”. Those are fast word and thought games that add constant flow to the reading.

During these four years, lots of changes will take place with  our heroes. They will go to college and move to Dublin. They will be awarded with generous scholarships and each one of them will show their own talent within the field they picked. Their relationship will undergo ups and downs. From the world of appearances of their small hometown, they manage to reckon their friendship. Sometimes lovers to the eyes of the ones that gravitate around them: a couple. At this point, we get to a turning point. When in college, it is Marianne who turns out to become a more open person and transits throughout several social groups while Connel closes up manifesting shyness in contradiction to how he was in high school.

This couple’s story is a background to a reflexion regarding initiation rites in adolescence and the transition to adult life. Solitude and displacement, the pressure to become part of social groups, depression, suicide as something vivid in many people’s heads, the idea of what it means to be a “normal person” and the necessity that part of these guys have to flert with trangression and not accepting pre-determined rolls.

Is it a book for adolescentes? Also. but it is a fluid novel. Well written and well translated that deserves to be read.

Normal People is  also a book about friendship and love. Connel and Marianne try, by all means, to be apart. At many points of the story, we get the feeling that they will never be together again, but this seems to be a hypothesis that is out of their control.

P.S.: The image for this article belongs to the Argentinian artist Julio Le Parc. Picture taken during an exhibit at the Tomie Ohtake Institute in 2018.

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