There is a reason as to why this book is so acclaimed and why this book was chosen to be Waterstones’ Book of the Year. Sally Rooney has managed to write an emotive, heartbreakingly vulnerable novel that anybody could relate to. Her characters Connell and Marianne, whom which we follow throughout the chapters, are growing, young adults, leaving their safe, known environment and embarking on the hardships and difficulties of relationships, sexual exploration, death and family.
Connell and Marianne both grow up in the same town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. But they both get places to study at university in Dublin, and a connection that has grown between them despite the social tangle of school lasts long into the following years.
As mentioned in the summary, the book itself is set in Ireland, moving specifically to Dublin in some of the later sections. Not being entirely familiar with Ireland, I found myself searching specific words or places up and being captivated by the serene images I saw appear on my laptop, perfect for the setting of this novel. Being a novel that depicts the relationship between two people, I assumed it would be a linear story, based around a specific time. Instead this book is dispersed, spread out amongst years, allowing us only to see snippets of their lives, allowing them to fill in the gaps for us, or leave us wondering, never actually finding out what has occurred.
What I think is so beautiful about this book, is the way in which it captures the concept of “viewing someone through rose-tinted glasses.” Connell tends to view Marianne as an almost light, drawn to her mind, feeling safe when he’s around her. This, in turn, allows the audience to view her through the same lens, someone mysterious and damagingly beautiful. We see this again when Connell is in love with Helen; he sees her as a source of happiness in his life whereas when he runs into Marianne, he uses dark descriptions, drastically different to the descriptions he’d previously used in relation to her. We are only given a more objective view through the outside characters who talk to our protagonists. Helen, Eric and Rob have a completely different opinion of Marianne and vocally choose to voice it to Connell. We see it again with Peggy, Marianne’s best friend who seems funny and kind-hearted through her eyes. Connell, gives a different perspective of her.
Another thing that this book manages to touch upon, is the opposing way in which men and women are held accountable in the public eye. Through a breakup that occurs in the novel, the majority of the secondary characters choose to side with the man involved, ignoring the aggressive tendencies and abuse that occurred in front of them. The woman is left with the rumours and reputation. This might not have been a topic that Sally Rooney actively chose to write about, or is even a topic that came to her mind, but is a topic that does tend to get brushed under the carpet. I’ve seen it happen and have had it happen, which is probably why it particularly hit close to home.
The emotional and physical abuse that occurs from Marianne’s dark family is almost unbearable to read about. It shines a light on the importance of nurture and safety in an environment you call home. Marianne’s mother has the responsibility to protect and give support to her daughter. The lack of those crucial emotions that were fundamental for her to have throughout her childhood, resulted in the pain and validation Marianne ends up seeking for the duration of the novel.
Connell and Marianne are seemingly locked away in their own bubble, for most of the novel. Even apart, they tend to feel and seem still close to each other. The most painful realisation for me, with this book, is realising that they loved each other, but one of them wanted the other, whereas the other needed them. Miscommunications, naivety and mental health, constantly pushes them further apart and yet closer together at the same time. The bittersweet taste the ending leaves in your mouth at the end is both perfect and heart-rending at the same time. I think this book perfectly encapsulates what it feels to love and feel loved in a fresh, innovative way.
Language and Style: 8 points
Plot: 8 points
Characters: 8 points
Story: 8 points
Total: 32/40 points
Favourite Quote: “If people appeared to behave pointlessly in grief, it was only because human life was pointless, and this was the truth that grief revealed.”