Normal People opens with Marianne and Connell in high school, in a small Irish town. Marianne comes from a wealthy but deeply unhappy family, and is shunned and bullied at school. Connell is the effortlessly popular, kind son of single mother Lorraine, who cleans Marianne's house. The two teenagers start a clandestine relationship, which has to be kept secret because association with Marianne will mean social death for Connell. Of course this painful situation results in tears all round.
But the story is just beginning. Marianne and Connell reconnect at university in Dublin, where the tables are neatly turned. Now it's Marianne who is effortlessly popular and sought after, and Connell who feels like an awkward misfit. Their lives cross and recross, sometimes separate, and reconnect again, but they are never truly apart.
I so wish I was capable of writing a book like this! It's the novel I was trying to write in my twenties, but I didn't know how. Sally Rooney is in her twenties, and she's nailed it. The pain, the misunderstandings, the delights of young adulthood are sharply and intelligently delineated in this cracking novel. I loved it.