Sally Rooney’s book Normal People quickly picked up the interest of everyone. At the British Book Awards, it won the “Book of the Year 2019,” while it has grabbed several other awards and for good reason.
Its success and greatness were also two things the BBC couldn’t ignore, which is why it turned the book into a series that screened on the BBC iPlayer in 2020.
This development made the book even more famous, attracting all kinds of readers to it and leaving them wanting more.
Following Connell and Marianne, Normal People is about two young people meeting and falling in love despite their different characters and attitudes toward life.
The book spans a period of several years, following them from the first stages of their relationship in high school all the way to their college year in Dublin, where the once social outcast, Marianne, is now surrounded by friends and the once popular Connell seems to have taken her place.
While the plot does sound quite ordinary and trite, Rooney’s writing and character development are so engaging and carefully constructed that make this book distinct from all the other love stories you have read.
“Engaging and charming, Normal People is a book about love, lust, and young relationships, all of which interweave with issues of class divide and the search for one’s identity.
Exploring the lives and relationship of Connell and Marianne, it is a must-read for anyone, no matter the gender and generation they identify with and belong to”
Themes Of The Book “Normal People”
Normal People explores themes of love in a capitalist social system and across social classes.
Marianne and Connell, the central protagonists, know each other not only from school but also because Connell’s mother cleans for Marianne’s mother.
This creates a class division in their relationship because Marianne is from an upper-class family while Connell is from a low-income family.
However, they do not see eye to eye when it comes to their social and economic upbringings, as Marianne is unphased about her expenses while Connell is very much concerned about it, especially given that they come from his mother’s work for Marianne’s family.
Some other themes of the book are normality and one’s identity, which are explored through the characters’ temperaments, attitudes, and their coming of age through their relationship and their relationship with others.
Marianne and Connell are both fearful of seeming atypical or being broken, something which is both directly and indirectly expressed throughout the story.
Seamlessly interweaving with these themes is the theme of love and sex, as both characters seem to find themselves in their love and emotionally heal from previous distressing sexual encounters.
Not only that but their love and sexual encounters help Connell deal with his stress and Marianne get over her previous experience of an abusive relationship.
Finally, the overall theme of the book is that of young relationships which always involve learning about oneself by learning about and from others.
Normal People explore this theme not only through the relationship that Connell and Marianne develop but also through their relationship with other young people who come and go in their lives.
Books Like Normal People
1. Conversations With Friends – Sally Rooney
In case you haven’t yet read Rooney’s rousing, quick-witted debut book, Conversations With Friends, we strongly advise you to do so as soon as possible.
It is a story about two performance poets and college students who befriend and fall for an older couple.
It has smart language and is packed with witty banter and probing concerns about what love, resentment, and extramarital affairs could indicate in open relationships.
Rooney ingeniously dismantles a number of the clichés of the romantic comedy (If you like romantic comedies, check out Books Like Crazy Rich Asians) without missing the genre’s charm, making this first published work of hers a “must-read.”
Themes: Self-esteem, sexuality, class, relationships, polygamy, art, intellectualism
2. Call Me By Your Name – Andre Aciman
Call Me By Your Name emerged as one of the most popular movies of 2018, and André Aciman’s authentic book story has gained a lot of traction ever since.
The story takes place in Italy in the 80s, where 17-year-old Elio falls in love for the first time and explores his homosexual desires.
It is a bittersweet coming-of-age story that is easy to read more than once, while its characters’ authentic, unfiltered emotions and feelings make every word come to life in front of you as you go through every page (If you liked this book, check out Call Me By Your Name and other similar books here).
As for the straightforward and uncompromising fashion it is written, it resembles that of Rooney’s whilst maintaining its own uniqueness.
Themes: obsessive love, friendship, time, sexuality, pre-Socratic philosophy, unrequited love, silence
3. One Day – David Nicholls
David Nicholls’ One Day is comparable to a grown-up’s version of Normal People.
Starting from the last day of college for Dexter and Emma, the book covers 15 years of the life of the two protagonists, who go from potential lovers to friends and then to lovers again.
It is a book that will have you laughing and crying, and even identifying with the characters who change, mature and learn how to deal with life when it’s good and when it’s not.
The writing style is lovely, and the character development will have you hating and loving the same characters just like you did in Normal People, all happening a few pages apart.
Themes: Love, loss, life and death, regret
4. Bad Behavior – Mary Gaitskill
Marianne’s readiness to debase herself for love leads her to pursue abusive and demeaning physical encounters, and subsequently, in a pivotal incident, to ask Connell whether he would hit her.
This instance alongside others that are overtly or covertly expressed in Normal People explores the theme of self-esteem and is something Mary Gaitskill also wanted to explore with her book, Bad Behavior.
This book is the inspiration behind the disturbing but delightful film Secretary by Steven Shainberg and includes a collection of small stories of people who have affairs, those who are into S&M, prostitutes, drug addicts, and struggling creatives.
Edgier than Charlotte and Connell, these people feel like outcasts in their world and Gaitskill’s abrasive, unapologetic, and wild writing makes these stories come to life just like Rooney did.
Themes: love, failed relationships, atypical behavior, S&M
5. Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book Americanah tells the story of two young people from their first love to their adult discontentment.
Ifemelu and Obinze met in high school in Lagos, Nigeria, and later parted ways – Ifemelu leaving Nigeria to study in the U. S., Obinze later becoming an unauthorized migrant in the UK – before reuniting as adults in Lagos, only to discover that a chasm had developed between them.
Just like Rooney’s book, it explores the falling in and out of love of two young people whose life experiences make them fall apart.
Adichie’s alluring book is a fascinating social critique on the Westernization of Africa and the experiences of the African immigrant community, all wrapped up in a deeply moving romantic drama that grows and develops over several years, told with flair and in a non-linear style.
Themes: African diaspora, love, culture, cultural differences, Americanization
The Bottom Line
If you have read Normal People or have been recommended the book by someone who knows your style and reading preferences, then the books we have on this list are all great contenders as your next read (see also “Books Like Bayou Moon By Ilona Andrews“).
Each one of the writers has a unique writing style and the stories of their books are also engaging and can immerse you in their world.
None of these books has an extraordinary story that you might read for the first time and, just like Rooney’s Normal People, they are all exploring human relationships and people in one way or another.
However, all of them are special reads that will have you sometimes laughing, sometimes crying, and sometimes wondering about your own life, friendships, and relationships.
No matter what, they will all stay with you and leave you with so many feelings and emotions that you will definitely be the next one to recommend them to your friends!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Normal People Similar To The Book?
As with all books that move to the big or small screen, the BBC series Normal People is similar yet not identical to the book.
However, if you watch it after having read the book, you can still enjoy it despite some evident differences.
Is There A Book 2 To Normal People?
Although it’s not a sequel and was actually published a year earlier, Conversations With Friends shares many themes and ideas that are expressed in Normal People, not to mention the location of Ireland, where both stories take place.
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