What are ‘Normal People’?

How apt, to have polished off Sally Rooney’s ‘Normal People’ in a day of self-isolation.

How, indeed, do ‘normal people’ function in times like these? Do they shut off, in blissful ignorance of what’s going on around them, or do they sit at home in a sense of panic, washing their hands until they bleed?

I’m painfully aware that behind millions of doors, there are people alone and terrified. Whether they have cause to be, or not. There are millions more putting on a brave face, because they have no choice but to ‘get on with it’ – their ‘it’ being emptying hospital bins, delivering vital supplies or at the coalface of the checkout in Tesco.

Sally Rooney’s two protagonists are damaged, lonely and putting on a front in their own distinct ways. Their recognition of each other and of what it’s like to live in a state of permanent isolation, is what unites them and repeatedly tears them apart.

Central characters, Marianne and Connell, are both ashamed of their strange behaviours, their warped thoughts. Marianne, at one point ponders whether she has gone to far, is too obscene for anyone to love. The novel deals with what it is to spend your life worrying about what others think, to the detriment of your own happiness and of being yourself – truly, openly and honestly.

I think most of us can identify with the sentiments echoed there. Which is maybe why Rooney’s book has been so well received. And in the face of scary, strange times, where human behaviour and circumstance doesn’t resemble anything like normal life, it’s important to realise that whatever fears and worries you’re dealing with – be it a haunted past, an anxious future or worries for the here and now, you aren’t alone.

If there’s comfort to be had, it’s that there are no such thing as ‘normal people’. As a society we should stop punishing ourselves for consistently failing to live up to something that doesn’t exist and realise that, in more ways than one, we really are all in this together.

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