Normal People is a modern-day fairy tale, with all of the stereotypes and none of the charm such fantasies allow us.
Repetitive and slightly uncomfortable, the novel paints a picture of a young woman who lacks agency or the will to reject male expectations. Not so very new or modern, you might think, but the issues aren’t addressed head on in the way you might want from a 21st century setting – until the boy saves the damsel in a state of bloodied distress.
I asked a friend, ‘Have you reached the bit where Marianne starts her BDSM phase?’ I’m not moralising, whatever floats year boat, but I thought it came across as abuse rather than anything she might find remotely pleasurable. She’s clearly submissive, but she also lacks any sense of conscious engagement and it goes well beyond the bedroom.
‘Rooney presents us with a male sexuality that is not chaotic and destructive’, said Luke Brown in the TLS – apart from the fact that it’s done on the basis of his narcissistic deniability and her complete submission!
Then there’s the abuse from the father, the brother, another boyfriend, and the guy whose predilection for BDSM extends beyond the bedroom. It was depressing to read a novel that purports to be modern literature which had all the stereotypical trappings of a fairy story and not so much of the charm such fantasies allow.
There’s more insidious abuse in Normal People than in most of the books I’ve ever read, and I’ve read Martin Amis.
And who puts out a match with their foot?! Plodding, pedestrian and predictable. Reads like stage directions for an Instagram post that would appeal to those who are endlessly fascinated with themselves while the rest of us look on bewildered at the banality. Read Oscar and Lucinda instead.