It's weird how reading books opens up a whole train of thought and associations that don't tie directly to the plot of the book being read but nevertheless encourage reflection. I was thinking the other day how important relationships that we make during our teens and at universities can be. The impact of either positive or negative friendships we make can resonate years later. Who we are in our late teens, who influences us and why and how, massively impacts who we become.
That's generally what was on my mind as I started reading Sally Rooney's 'Normal People' and the things it made me ponder on during and after were loosely linked to that. The book made me reflect on how little I actually know about my kids' friendships for example. What I do know, shows itself mainly in a fierce desire to protect them, which can be harmful to their personal and social development. It led me to think about friendships that I've had in the past that perhaps went a bit sour and now, for a whole host of reasons, are too late to fix. The book also had me feeling gratitude for connections I've retained and new ones I've formed. For example, I've been privileged to be back in touch with the mum of a friend who passed away when we were younger. So, although 'Normal People' wasn't about any of these things it is interesting to consider how literature shapes our thoughts into some kind of coherency. Perhaps all a good book is, is a fancy form of word and thought association!
I do like 'naturalistic' or 'realistic fiction' and 'Normal People' explores family and friendship, looking at how these cannot be separated in the relationships we form. Isn't it strange how there are some things you'd tell your friends that you'd never tell your family, and yet family is often likely to be more permanent than support from friends? Families come with a battery of assumptions and pre-formed views and attitudes about you so you would think they'd know you inside out, YET a friend quite often knows you better, or at least knows the 'current you' better. It's a messy cocktail and one that I find fascinating but don't pretend to begin to understand. For example, I'm likely to see things from my kids' perspectives, and I'm likely to be sympathetic, but I think that can also underestimate my ability to understand that they are complex humans.
In this book the protagonist 'Marianne' has a lot of negative stuff to deal with, and we see how she does and doesn't handle it well. Her family set up is BAD. The boy protagonist though, Connell, has a supportive mum, yet he also struggles to find his place, and is acutely aware of 'self' and lives with a lot of self-doubt and anxiety. The text reminded me what being at university can be like and was a poignant reminder that what twenty year olds go through is no less signficant or important than any other experience. I think it is a bit too easy to dismiss student exisential angst as 'just a phase' and dismiss the complexity of emotions that it creates. Perhaps the book made me feel a little bit like I was twenty again. It is not just for millenials!
So as you can see Sally Rooney's 'Normal People' resonated with me. It was a study of 'mankind' that parallels the excellence of Simone De Beauvoir's 'She Came to Stay' or 'The Second Sex'. 'Normal People' is a perfect micro-example of excellent writing that illustrates how good fiction helps us to address the vey fundamentals of who we are, what makes us human and how we interact. It has gone straight into my top ten books and I can't wait to hear what others think of it.