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Normal People: Deconstructing a Phenomenon


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Normal People: A Novel: Rooney, Sally: 9781984822178: Amazon.com: BooksAny book with this much buzz deserves your attention!

Love her or hate her, Sally Rooney is one of the most famous authors of our time. Hailing from Ireland, she came out of nowhere in 2017 with her surprise hit, Conversations With Friends. Blending elements of literary and women's fiction, the book was well-received and widely read, leading a splashy deal for her next book.

Which was Normal People.

You'd have to be living under a boulder in Croatia to have missed the massive media storm that was Normal People. It spawned a BBC adaptation, sold literally millions of copies, won tons of awards, and probably showed up in your mom's book group. Everyone was reading it. Everyone was talking about it.

Which is exactly why we should here.

On its surface, Normal People is a pretty straightforward story. It's the painful and frustrating tale of two people who seem well-suited for each other but, for a variety of reasons, keep crossing signals romantically. Marianne and Connell are from different economic strata, which creates tension in their ongoing relationship/friendship. But really, they're both flawed and selfish and tragically bad at communication.

But also deeply, deeply compelling.

When I first started Normal People I didn't think I was going to finish. The writing was simple to the point of boring, the formatting odd, and the dialogue cringe-worthy (I still go back and forth on whether or not Rooney intended it that way). However, the more I read the more I realized that these two fully-realized characters were getting under my skin. I found myself caring about the self-hating Marianne and the socially awkward Connell. They were almost too real, devoid of the shiny polish that most modern entertainment gives its characters. They were people you might meet at parties, friends you might complain about because they were so stupid. But that was what made them addictive. It was the romance trope of miscommunication done in a hyper-realist way that slipped under my skin and stayed with me, even a year after reading it.

I'm not sure I'll read Rooney's next book, but I think the appeal of her writing is the raw humanity that she never shies away from, no matter how uncomfortable. She's unflinching in her portrayal of people as disastrous messes, ever wounding each other because of the issues they can't escape. It might not exactly be pleasant to read about, but it's real and believable and you find yourself praying the whole time that these two unlikable, compelling people can find happiness that, in the real world, they likely wouldn't.

So think about your story. How can you bring more authentic honesty into your characters? How can you make them feel so real that the reader can't look away? It doesn't matter what genre you're writing in; every story must have a person at its heart, and the more real you can make them, the more real their story (and the drama by extension) will feel.

If you can make them as evocative as the main duo of Normal People, then even the most mundane story can become a page-turner.

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