Normal People

Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

Marianne – “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I don’t know why I can’t be like normal people.”

Connell – “It’s funny the decisions you make because you like someone and then your whole life is different. I think we’re at that weird age where life can change a lot from small decisions. But you’ve been a very good influence on me overall, like I definitely am a better person now, I think. Thanks to you.”

Connell and Marianne attend school together in Sligo in Ireland, yet do not acknowledge each other publicly. Connell is part of the popular clique and Marianne is regarded as a loner. Yet outside of school, things are very different. Connell’s mother works as a cleaner for Marianne’s mother and the teenagers become drawn to each other, forming a connection that will change their lives forever…

Normal People is a coming-of-age novel about friendship, sex and love, and the powerful connections made between people. The novel explores themes of identity, isolation and intimacy, and raises awareness of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. The book also deals with social issues of class, education, prejudice and morality.

Having previously read Rooney’s debut novel Conversations with Friends, for me there is a detached and self-aware quality to Rooney’s writing that makes her characters quite unlikeable. However, I did relate to the central characters of Connell and Marianne in many different ways, despite their often frustrating behaviour. Many of their actions though reflect real life and serve as a reminder of the mistakes that many of us do make, particularly during our younger years. I may be the wrong demographic for this book and I can understand why it appeals more to younger readers, but I did enjoy it overall.

Now that I am watching the tv adaptation, I already have the urge to reread the book, despite reading it just days ago. I will save my thoughts on the tv show for a later review, but it is difficult not to allow it to influence my thoughts on the novel as the show is amazing!

Have you read or watched Normal People? Do you think that age matters when reading a novel?

 

My Dark Vanessa

Rating:

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5

When Vanessa Wye hears the news that her former teacher Jacob Strane has been accused of sexual abuse, she is forced to confront what she considered the first and great love story of her life. Because Vanessa was just fifteen years old when she first had sex with her English teacher. As the #MeToo movement gains more and more momentum, Vanessa finds herself questioning if what she considered love was not love at all, but actually rape?

My Dark Vanessa is an unflinching story of sexual abuse and grooming that is compelling and powerful. The novel highlights how an abuser manipulates and grooms their victims and exploits their vulnerabilities for their own gain. The book raises the issue of consent and also challenges many people’s preconceptions of a stereotypical victim and forms of abuse, while examining the long lasting impact and psychological damage of sexual abuse. The devastating consequences of sexual abuse are explored in the novel as Vanessa struggles to grasp the reality of what she has experienced, as well as cope with adult life. As the narrative weaves between the present and the past, the story reveals graphic scenes, which often makes for uncomfortable reading. However, these scenes are essential to the story in order to truly give an accurate depiction of such serious subject matter.

For me, My Dark Vanessa is an absorbing read that is difficult to forget. A lack of clear cut resolutions in the story adds to the realistic tone of the novel and the depiction of central character Vanessa feels authentic. My only minor critiques are that the story felt slightly stretched out in parts and the contrast between teenage Vanessa and adult Vanessa wasn’t always that distinct. Vanessa is described as a talented writer during her teenage years, but the narrative sometimes feels just beyond the voice of a teenage girl. Overall though, My Dark Vanessa is a fantastic debut novel that is published today. I hope it receives the success it deserves, despite these challenging times for new book releases and author events.

What debut novel has captured your attention in recent years?