If you loved reading Sally Rooney’s Normal People and binged all 12 episodes of the screen adaptation in one night as I did, you may be suffering from a Connell and Marianne shaped hole in your life. Unfortunately, these five novels don’t feature beautiful chain-wearing Irishmen (check out @connellschain on Instagram for more of that), but here are some similar novels to read after watching and/or reading Rooney’s ‘Normal People’.
- ‘Norwegian Wood’ by Haruki Murakami
Although 1960s Japan is a far cry from Sligo, Murakami’s novel captures the experience of first love just as Rooney does. When the thirty-something year-old protagonist, Toru, hears the Beatles song ‘Norwegian Wood’, he is transported back to his youth as a student in Tokyo and his relationship with Naoko. Bound together by the death of their best friend, the two struggle to navigate their relationship and their lives as young adults. Toru turning to casual sex and a young woman called Midori, Naoko turning herself away from the world and away from Toru.
- ‘My Dark Vanessa’ by Kate Elizabeth Russell
This novel is by no means a love story, rather it is a tale of abuse disguised as one. Elizabeth Russell’s debut taps into concepts such as consent, sexuality and abuse just as Rooney does so well, highlighting the importance of recognising them in relationships, as well as in everyday life. When fifteen-year-old Vanessa enters into a sexual relationship with her English teacher, Mr Strane, she is convinced it is love. Yet seventeen years later, when Strane is accused of sexual abuse by another student, Vanessa must re-evaluate the relationship she thought she had, and consider that she herself is a victim of abuse and coercion.
- ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls
Similarly to ‘Normal People’, ‘One Day’ follows the relationship between two individuals over their youth. Yet, whilst Rooney’s novel begins at school and ends at university, the story of Emma and Dexter begins as university ends. Nicholls revisits the pair on the 15th of July every year for 20 years, seeing the characters struggle through difficult careers, flimsy romantic relationships and the loss of loved ones. Like Marianne and Connell, Emma and Dexter are just normal people, finding their place in the world and trying to navigate adulthood.
- ‘The Versions of Us’ by Laura Barnett
The ending of ‘Normal People’ is frustratingly vague and leaves many questions (what will happen to Connell and Marianne? Will Connell go to New York? Will Marianne change her mind and go with him?) but Barnett’s novel deals perfectly with the ‘what ifs’ that come with any romance novel. ‘The Versions of Us’ is not only one love story, but three! Three different versions of what could happen in a single relationship. In version one Eva and Jim meet at university in the 60s, in the second they never meet, and in the third they meet, but things don’t go ‘to plan’.
- ‘Conversations with Friends’ by Sally Rooney
And if you’re still craving more Rooney, her debut novel offers more of her easy-to-read style, and even more complex relationships. Written from the single perspective of Frances, the novel begins with Frances and her ex-girlfriend turned best friend Bobbi; spoken word poetry performing Trinity students and aspiring creatives. When the pair meet Melissa and Nick, a married couple, they enter a world of luxury, adultery and polygamy. Following the success of the screen adaptation of ‘Normal People’, it has also been confirmed that ‘Conversations with Friends’ will also be making its way onto the big screen, so make sure you read it.