This one is strong and sophisticated. Yet dark at times and strangely moving. I can’t imagine someone reading this and not having an instant reaction to it. I for one, had to read it. Even though it hurts at times.
“He put his arm around her waist. He had never, ever touched her in front of anyone else before. Their friends had never seen them together like this, no one had. In the pool the others were still splashing and yelling” – Sally Rooney
Connell and Marianne – an unlikely couple for everyone. He is the darling boy of their high school in a small town in the west of Ireland. She is outspoken, direct, not quite likeable for most of the other school kids. Her family background is a difficult one though they are a wealthy family. Her father used to abuse her, also her brother continues to verbally and physically abuse Marianne, her mother couldn’t be more indifferent about it. Connell’s mother is caring but alone in bringing him up, working as a cleaner for Mariannes mother. Different worlds. One day though there was a spark and it went all the way. Connell and Marianne discovered an overwhelming sexual attraction that will last through all of their adulthood and far beyond.
Rooney is pressing on, showing the dark edges of these two characters. At uni Marianne is the popular one, having close friends and belonging for the first time in her life. Meanwhile Connell is unsure of himself, getting more lonely by the day. Until he discovers writing and that he has quite a talent for that. They drag along their emotional baggage throughout the times, being together, even when they are apart, having other partners. Inbetween they find back to each others body warmth, where they also find some piece of mind.
The characterization is magnificent. Rooney let’s us experience two extremely vulnerable and emotional people, who actually have serious psychological issues to handle. To me it seems almost impossible that Connell and Marianne are not real people but only live on these pages. They have so much depth, body and soul in their struggle for a life that fits them, doesn’t confine them. Each one of their own but also as an item. Their love is one that is relatable too – they can’t seem to live with but can definitely not live without each other. Additionally their timing for a serious relationship is completely off most of the time.
It does hurt at times, especially Marianne who is such a witty, intelligent and incredibly interesting force of nature but has such deep disabilities to engage in love. It almost feels like she needs to not be loved, to make herself feel like she is nothing in abusive affairs. I applaud Rooney for this honest book. It is a wonderful resort for “normal people” who are as unconventionally normal as it gets.