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kottke.org posts about Normal People

Highlights from Normal People by Sally Rooney

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2019

Normal People

Based on a recommendation from *gestures around at almost everyone*, I started and finished Sally Rooney’s Normal People in the space of a couple of days last week. Her prose is straightforward yet somehow not, and I found plenty to highlight on my Kindle. Here’s everything I highlighted for one reason or another:

Page 10:

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 and become part of it.

Page 12 (on the appeal of sports):

They were cheering together, they had seen something magical which dissolved the ordinary social relations between them.

Page 12:

It occurred to Marianne how much she wanted to see him having sex with someone; it didn’t have to be her, it could be anybody. It would be beautiful just to watch him. She knew these were the kind of thoughts that made her different from other people in school, and weirder.

Page 25:

But why Marianne? It wasn’t like she was so attractive. Some people thought she was the ugliest girl in school. What kind of person would want to do this with her? And yet he was there, whatever kind of person he was, doing it.

Page 26 (and yet…):

This “what?” question seems to him to contain so much: not just the forensic attentiveness to his silences that allows her to ask in the first place, but a desire for total communication, a sense that anything unsaid is an unwelcome interruption between them.

Page 27:

Lately he’s consumed by a sense that he is in fact two separate people, and soon he will have to choose which person to be on a full-time basis, and leave the other person behind.

Page 34:

Connell always gets what he wants, and then feels sorry for himself when what he wants doesn’t make him happy.

Page 46:

You make me really happy, he says. His hand moves over her hair and he adds: I love you. I’m not just saying that, I really do. Her eyes fill up with tears again and she closes them. Even in memory she will find this moment unbearably intense, and she’s aware of this now, while it’s happening. She has never believed herself fit to be loved by any person. But now she has a new life, of which this is the first moment, and even after many years have passed she will still think: Yes, that was it, the beginning of my life.

Page 50 (hard same):

Connell wished he knew how other people conducted their private lives, so that he could copy from example.

Page 68 (re: toxic masculinity):

Denise considers this a symptom of her daughter’s frigid and unlovable personality. She believes Marianne lacks “warmth,” by which she means the ability to beg for love from people who hate her.

Page 71 (stories are stories are stories):

And in a way, the feeling provoked in Connell when Mr. Knightley kisses Emma’s hand is not completely asexual, though its relation to sexuality is indirect. It suggests to Connell that the same imagination he uses as a reader is necessary to understand real people also, and to be intimate with them.

Page 76 (love these little meta descriptions of the characters: “the kind of person he’d turned out to be”):

He felt a debilitating shame about the kind of person he’d turned out to be, and he missed the way Marianne had made him feel, and he missed her company.

Page 78:

He had thought that being with her would make him feel less lonely, but it only gave his loneliness a new stubborn quality, like it was planted down inside him and impossible to kill.

Page 99:

I mean, when you look at the lives men are really living, it’s sad, Marianne says. They control the whole social system and this is the best they can come up with for themselves? They’re not even having fun.

Page 108:

She had been sad before, after the film, but now she was happy. It was in Connell’s power to make her happy. It was something he could just give to her, like money or sex.

Page 117:

Marianne, he said, I’m not a religious person but I do sometimes think God made you for me.

Page 118 (pairs well w/ the above quote from page 46):

Marianne looked on, slightly drunk, admiring the way Sophie and Connell looked together, his hands on her smooth brown shins, and feeling a strange sense of nostalgia for a moment that was already in the process of happening.

Page 127 (on having money):

She bought him things all the time, dinner, theatre tickets, things she would pay for and then instantly, permanently, forget about.

Page 132 (ah, the friends-with-your-ex conundrum):

Connell can’t figure out what kind of relationship they are supposed to have now. Are they agreeing not to find each other attractive anymore? When were they supposed to have stopped?

Page 138:

I mean, I don’t enjoy it. But then, you’re not really submitting to someone if you only submit to things you enjoy.

Page 165:

That’s money, the substance that makes the world real. There’s something so corrupt and sexy about it.

Page 168:

He’s not sure what friends are allowed to enjoy about each other.

Page 176 (there were several other descriptions of various blues throughout the book):

The sky is a thrilling chlorine-blue, stretched taut and featureless like silk.

Page 187 (the obligatory titular reference):

I don’t know why I can’t be like normal people.

Page 189 (this had at least two different meanings and was simply brutal in context):

But Marianne has already turned away.

Page 195 (also a saying in Vermont):

In Sweden we have a saying, he says. There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.

Page 195:

He has managed to nurture a fine artistic sensitivity without ever developing any real sense of right and wrong. The fact that this is even possible unsettles Marianne, and makes art seem pointless suddenly.

Page 198:

There’s always been something inside her that men have wanted to dominate, and their desire for domination can look so much like attraction, even love.

Page 219:

But that was their world then. Their feelings were suppressed so carefully in everyday life, forced into smaller and smaller spaces, until seemingly minor events took on insane and frightening significance.

Page 224:

What we can do here in counseling is try to work on your feelings, and your thoughts and behaviors, she says. We can’t change your circumstances, but we can change how you respond to your circumstances.

Page 225 (a counterpart to the famous Groucho Marx line):

They were attended only by people who wanted to be the kind of people who attended them.

Page 231:

Not for the first time Marianne thinks cruelty does not only hurt the victim, but the perpetrator also, and maybe more deeply and more permanently. You learn nothing very profound about yourself simply by being bullied; but by bullying someone else you learn something you can never forget.

Page 237 (quietly devastating, given that it occurs right near the end of the book):

It’s different for men, she says.

Yeah, I’m starting to get that.

Page 242:

Her body is just an item of property, and though it has been handed around and misused in various ways, it has somehow always belonged to him, and she feels like returning it to him now.

I should go back through my book highlights more often. Too often, I just jump from finishing a book into the next thing (book, movie, sleep, work); reading through my notes (and writing about them, briefly) really solidified this book in my mind. I’m curious though: was it helpful/interesting for you? And did you read the book or not?