“Most people go through their whole lives, without ever really feeling that close with anyone.”

― Sally Rooney , Normal People (2018)

As a “coming-of-age” author (a phrase only skimming the surface of its genre’s complexities), focused on the modern world, Sally Rooney faces a challenge. To capture the hardships, the fallings, and the battles of youth in a society that frequently changes is an ambitious task, even more ambitious to do it justice. To say today’s society is frightening would be an understatement. It’s terrifying. Growing up amongst instability, an uncontrollably evolving digital era, environmental crisis, and quite frankly, political chaos. It is not exactly easy it ?! Pair that with more human issues like love and relationships, the world of work and increasing pressures on mental health. Bombarded with information, real or fake, simply existing in the current climate is a lot to deal with. Rooney attempts to capture this snapshot of history into her three critically acclaimed novels, “Conversations with Friends” (2017), “Normal People” (2018), and “Beautiful World, Where are You?”(2021). Across the novels, she poignantly honours the loneliness and isolation of youth in a difficult society, and that familiar doomed feeling of knowing everything is wrong and that there is nothing you can do about it. 

“Normal People ”, Rooney’s second novel turned BAFTA award winning TV adaptation, exemplifies this feeling of stagnant isolation and lack of connection, relatable to so many, perhaps explaining its chart-topping success. Those amongst the book lovers of the world will shudder at the statement, but the TV adaptation for many only heightened their connection and resonance to the characters of Connell and Marianne. Lenny Abrihamson’s direction of the 12 episode series provides a harrowing and touching insight into the ordinary, “normal” lives of these “Normal People ”, as they fall in love, fall out of love, and grow into a challenging modern world.  This holds true to Rooney’s writing, as she sheds light on the ordinary within the chaos. If you haven’t seen it, watch it, and if you haven’t read it, read it. Especially as a young person, the themes and struggles of youth and belonging will ring true in a way a lot of coming-of-age fails to achieve. 

Rooney consistently upholds a sense of unique realness in her work, a raw, unashamed depiction of mental health and what it really means to be human. She highlights the ordinary, the mundane and the relatable day to day happenings of human beings existing in the modern world, and draws connections for us to relate to. Even the unobservant eye can see her goal from the titles of her work. For Rooney, it’s about the “Normal People” that we meet, those lasting “Conversations with Friends”, and the search for the “Beautiful World”. She suggests, through these sharp observations of the human condition, that in order to find it, we don’t have to look very far at all. Her work sheds light on the simple pleasures, the shared human experience, the little joys that get us through day to day. The “Beautiful World” exists among us, in the love and connection that we find in an unfamiliar society, in the heartbreak, in the conversation. Rooney’s success is in recognising that although utterly terrifying, the modern world is also something we share. And, that in that sharing, lies connections, and real people, that make it all just that little bit easier to get by.

-Elinor Wallis

Featured Image Source: Still via YouTube // Louisiana Channel

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