Normal People by Sally Rooney


Normal People
Author: Sally Rooney
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Publication Date: 28th August 2018
Buy: Amazon | Book Depository | Wordery

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.

Sally Rooney's second novel is a deeply political novel, just as it's also a novel about love. It's about how difficult it is to speak to what you feel and how difficult it is to change. It's wry and seductive; perceptive and bold. It will make you cry and you will know yourself through it.

Rooney has achieved a feat that seems impossible after Conversations with Friends. Her new novel feels seminal and true and the hold it will have over its readers will be one of the finest occurrence this September.

I read an extract from Normal People by Sally Rooney on the Granta website and was immediately drawn in. She presents the main protagonists, Connell and Marianne, in such detail, in such normal everyday detail, that I was completely taken in by them. They were vivid and real and the plot of the book may seem generic, but you feel so invested in these characters that you want, and need, to know what happens.

I've read a number of reviews commenting on cliché characters and plot points, but I disagree. They're not cliché, they're real, everyday events. They seem familiar because they are. We've all experienced the 'popular' kids at school, whether we were one ourselves, were looking on from the periphery, or were even bullied by them. The reactions of the characters are relatable and frustratingly trivial. There's no heroes in this novel. Decisions are made based on social standing, pride and miscommunication. If you can relate to any of the characters it will cut right to your core, I'm sure of it.

"Marianne thinks cruelty does not only hurt the victim but the perpetrator also, and maybe more deeply and more permanently. You learn nothing very profound about yourself simply by being bullied, but by bullying someone else you learn something you can never forget.

The timeline focuses on the pivotal moments in the protagonists' lives, jumping in time by three months, two months, a few days. So for a book lacking in plot, it very much maintains momentum. I was swept up in Marianne and Connell's lives and felt like I was witnessing two friends' destructive relationship. There are some odd plot points that didn't quite work for me, Marianne's brother being one. Abusive with no explanation other than to seemingly allow interaction between Marianne and Connell. And I'm a little bit tired of the whole middle class university thing in contemporary fiction, perhaps it's simply that I cannot relate. I'd love to read more from writer's who haven't honed their craft at university. I guess I need to believe it can be done without access to higher education. On that note, I think Normal People will make a wonderful book club read. I may even suggest it to mine. I think the conversations it would inspire about class, social standing, loneliness, sex, popularity, would be very interesting.

Normal People won't be for everyone. It reminded at times of The Lesser Bohemians and One Day, falling somewhere in between in terms of readability. It's not a cheery one, but it's bloody good.

Story - 3/5
Writing - 4/5
Character - 5/5
Memorability - 3/5
Enjoyment - 4/5
Overall rating - 4/5

Sweet Dreams


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Experienced confectioner offering private
sweet making classes to individuals and
small groups. No experience necessary.
Ingredients provided. £20 per person.
Call Rosina on 01267 348799

In their simplest form, sweets are made from just sugar and water. Heat is key. 115°C for caramel. 120°C for fudge and fondant. 125°C for nougat and marshmallows. 140°C for butterscotch and taffy. 150°C for nut brittles and seaside rock. But there’s one key ingredient you need to make a childhood favourite, to craft and mould sugar coated squares of orange bergamot or rose. To create the perfect squidge of Turkish Delight - Gelatine.

Making gelatine is a laborious task. You need animal bones. Skin. Tissue. Be sure to discard of any rotting flesh and boil for several hours. Remove from the heat and allow to set for 24 hours. A layer of fat will rise to the surface, skim this off and discard. Add flavourings or sweeteners to the liquid and allow to set again. It’s beneficial to befriend your local butcher or abattoir.

A permanent veil of icing sugar coats every surface, every jar, utensil and pinafore. Cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger cling to net curtains. She used to be friendly with the local abattoir, but the presence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy was reported in 1989 and she hasn’t returned since.
  Two-day-old pans sit on top of a butcher’s block, its surface a marbling of violet, cobalt blue, sulphur yellow, blood red – flaws from over enthusiastic elbows. The shelves beneath overflow with bundt tins, jelly moulds and copper pans and a sugar thermometer hangs from a rusty hook. Aged hands brush a kitchen table and wrinkled lips blow the last of the sugary dust to the floor. She places a trifle on a scalloped edge cake stand and dots its creamy surface with gumdrops. Their coating catches the light from the window.
  Her kitchen table is adorned with the sweet treasures of her craft. Palma violets - they taste of her grandmother. Sugared almonds - pastel favours for the wedding she never had. Toffee bonbons - the reason she has no back teeth. Stained glass windows of sugar, and candy cane door frames wait for fondant foundations and pinwheel tiles. A large pot of tea steeps next to a lineup of sugared mice and a preserving jar takes centre stage, part filled with a jelly like substance the colour of custard. The luggage label tied around it reads - GELATINE.
  Two places are set at the confectioner’s table, each with a silicon mat, spatula and scalpel. Any free space has been filled with a pick and mix of porcelain bowls, full of orange juice, sugar, rose water, cornflour and red food colouring. Today’s lesson - Turkish Delight.
  She dismisses a ginger tom cat with a boney poke and takes its seat at the kitchen table, glancing at the clock on the wall. The cat pads over to a broken china plate, leaving a path of delicate tracks on the sugar coated tiles. It picks at pale, stringy scraps of meat. A fly lands on a tacky yellow strip hanging from the ceiling light, buzzing with the shock of imprisonment. She catches the smell of the pans, puts them under the sink and places a plastic caged air freshener in the window.
  A cast iron pot sits over an open fire in view of the small, wood cabin. Shrouded in a woolen blanket she shuffles down the frozen steps, and crouching under the cabin, pulls out a black bin liner, damp with leaf litter. She grabs a handful of lace, cotton, check and polka dots and continues her journey to check for the boil. Small bubbles gather at the base of the pan. She throws the scraps of clothing onto the fire.
  The cat raises its head as she walks back into the cabin and watches her sit on the chair. She snatches another look at the clock. As a confectioner she prizes herself on her timekeeping, a degree or two out and your creation is ruined. Flour encrusted nails tap tap tap at the table. She readjusts the mice and waits.

The rumble of tyres wakes her with a snort. She removes her yellowed pinafore, wipes at the saliva in the corners of her mouth and brushes down her black skirt. As she passes the teapot she places the back of her palm against it to check it’s still hot and, with a clap of her hands, she opens the door and greets her guests with a curtsy and a sugared mouse. ‘Good morning, my dears. I’m Rosina. Welcome to my cabin of confectionary.’

The fire has long since burnt out. The evidence of her workshop activities scrubbed clean and the trays of Turkish Delight perfectly set in the fridge. Rosina was impressed with her pupils; they really will make incredibly good sweets. She holds a ditzy floral dress to her chest, too small, but perfect for a new pinafore. Taking a seat at the table, she writes on a new luggage tag while the cat plays with its string.

Strong spices can’t mask all smells. No amount of bleach and scrubbing can keep away the flies. She prefers the faint odour of mildewed curtains and forgotten pots to the current fragrance of boiled flesh and bones. She tickles the cat’s chin and with a gummy smile and a pink square of delight in her mouth, places the jar in the fridge. The newest labeled with today’s date and the word GELATINE.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Someone Who's Been There by Cheryl Strayed


Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Someone Who's Been There
Author: Cheryl Strayed
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Publication Date: 25th March 2013
Buy: Amazon | Book Depository | Wordery

Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills—and it can be great: you’ve had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar—the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild—is the person thousands turn to for advice.

Tiny Beautiful Things brings the best of Dear Sugar in one place and includes never-before-published columns and a new introduction by Steve Almond. Rich with humor, insight, compassion—and absolute honesty—this book is a balm for everything life throws our way.

I wasn't Cheryl Strayed's biggest fan when reading Wild. I thought she was entitled, self-centered, and foolish when it came to her lack of planning. I felt the book lacked depth. The flashbacks to her former life not enough to explain her choices and behaviour. Had I read her Dear Sugar columns first, I don't doubt that my enjoyment of Wild would have increased tenfold.

For several years, Cheryl Strayed was the anonymous internet agony aunt for The Rumpus. Each letter in this collection is responded to with compassion, honesty and from a place of personal experience. It's clear she has lived through and witnessed an awful lot of pain in her life. That pain has made her who she is today, and allowed her to respond to those letters like no agony aunt I have ever read. If you can relate to just one letter in this collection then it is completely worth reading.

"Love is the feeling we have for those we care deeply about and hold in high regard. It can be light as the hug we give a friend, or heavy as the sacrifices we make for our children. It can be romantic, platonic, familiar, pleading, everlasting, conditional, unconditional, imbued with sorrow, stoked by sex, sullied by abuse, amplified by kindness, twisted by betrayal, deepened by time, darkened by difficulty, leavened by generosity, nourished by humour, and loaded with promises and commitments that we may or may not want to keep. The best thing you can possibly do with your life, is tackle the mother-fucking shit out of love."

Her responses to the letters I could relate to, felt like they were written for me. Words from a very kind, caring, but honest friend. Her words on grief and love made me cry. If you're a fan of Dolly Alderton's Everything I Know About Love, I think you will really enjoy this. If you've suffered bereavement, difficult relationships, difficult friendships, family problems, wedding problems or just generally want to become a better human being, then I implore you to read this.

"Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can't cry it away, or eat it away, or starve it away, or walk it away, or punch it away, or even therapy it away. It's just there and you have to survive it, you have to endure it. You have to live through it, and love it, and move on, and be better for it, and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams, across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal."

Verdict: Story - 5/5
Writing - 5/5
Insight - 5/5
Enjoyment - 5/5
Overall - 5


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