Tag Archives: literary fiction

Normal People: book vs series!

Read on to find out what I thought about the popular new work by Sally Rooney, Normal People – the book and the series. Or if you’d rather just watch the video, check this out!

synopsis

At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school soccer team while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her housekeeping job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers – one they are determined to conceal.

A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years in college, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. Then, as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.

Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love, and the complex entanglements of family and friendship.

my review

First Impressions for NORMAL PEOPLE: book vs the series

The first impression I got from the book was that the author informs us simply of what has been happening, and what the characters feel. But then, I quickly realized that it was not indeed so – because along with the protagonists, the reader also introspects and philosophizes with them, essentially moving closer to the question of ‘normality’ in relation to human relationships. 

This is one of the best adaptations ever. It was just so visually stunning. I was in love with the cinematography, the actors, and the utter depth of emotions they portrayed so well.

Significance of the title: Normal People

I believe that the title of the book is a paradox. On the one hand, it tells us that it is about normal people that society is filled with, for instance, Marianne and Connell’s friends, as opposed to them both who are weird. But when we look at it from that perspective, we see that it is not really so.  Because, when together, Marianne and Connell are ‘normal’ with each other. As such this implies that in the way they different or weird from others, it is a degree of measurement which affects every individual of society – perhaps many of these hide it better and assimilate easily compared to the protagonists. Thus, who are normal people? Everyone and no one, both at the same time.

What I disliked about Normal People, the book:

  1. I feel that perhaps the way in which the story has been written sheds Connell in a much more negative light than it does Marianne as if he deliberately and continually turns to hurt Marianne. He is shown as someone on whom lies the course of the relationship if one could even call it that. Whatever it was, I think that in this regard, the author may have done Connell an injustice in the way he was portrayed. Bringing about the mental health angle seemed like a convenient excuse for that.
    • Once Marianne tells Connell towards the middle, “You’re definitely drunk if you’re flirting with me.” The idea that Marianne now inevitably thinks that Connell has to be drunk to flirt with her, as if he wouldn’t do something like that (he doesn’t) when he is sober, does not sit well with me. Why does he so need alcohol to lower his inhibitions with her?
  2. As for Marianne, I believe that the author could have let us know a bit more about her family life – to show why she is the way she is. Her family is not the best – she has an abusive brother who hits her (“sometimes”) and who is continually passive-aggressive, tormenting her emotionally and psychologically. The mother is no better, to be honest. When Alan, her brother spits on her face, the mother fails to reprimand her wayward son and instead questions Marianne how she could deal with the real world outside when she could not deal with “a little sibling rivalry”. She then continues to mock her saying, “You think you are special, do you?”

The writing style and narrative structure of Sally Rooney

  1. As Rooney describes the scenes, the reader gets spectacular imagery as if a literary montage.
  2. I feel like the book solely relies on emotion and catharsis it can erupt in the reader.
  3. There are narrative skips and jumps, meaning that the timeline is not really linear. In the beginning, these jumps are not between very different stages, but as we move further into the narrative, these jumps are considerably disconnected as if snippets of memory that assault the protagonists as they live their life, characteristic of the modern fragmented soul, inevitably coming closer and closer to each other. 
  4. The story is also written in a rather episodic format, and now that I look back and introspect, this is how we humans, ‘normal people’ like us look back and retrospect.

Important themes in the book

  1. Isolation/detachment/aimlessness – there is a sense of detachment which is weird but then so reflective of normal modern society. Marianne feels that she is not part of the life in Carricklea.
    • “Really she has everything going on for her. She has no idea what she’s going to do with her life.”
  2. The lack of rootedness/a sense of not belonging/transience –
    • “Marianne had the sense that her real-life was happening somewhere very far away, happening without her, and she didn’t know if she would ever find out where it was and become part of it.”
    • Connell really thinks of the transient nature of things when he is on the Europe trip. I was really reminded of Holden Caulfield at this point and how he was absolutely disgusted with phoniness.      
  3. Originality as something deviant of ‘normal’ behavior –
    • Marianne appreciates beauty in its raw and primal form when she wants to see Connell having sex.
    • Connell is originally unwilling to let others know about his ‘relationship’ with Marianne because since she was not considered a ‘normal’ person in their circle, any association with her would taint him as ‘weird’ like her, and not a normal person, something that Connell desperately wants.
    • “Do we ever say what we mean?”
  4. Identity – The imposter syndrome was brought in well, in this aspect. As Connell grapples with his identity in college, the threader also starts to question these issues that plague all humans.
  5. Stability – In the beginning, I also feel that both these characters, as actual human beings with relation to each other, are lacking in conviction. Why cannot they assert and say that they want something rather than saying, and I quote from the book, “Say you want me to stay and I will”.
    • Then, I feel like Connell truly feels stability when he rescues Marianne from Alan and then confronts him, threatening to kill him if he ever hurt Marianne again. That is the point of change for him, I believe and he starts to work on himself, truly. He is really open to her at the moment.
    • “Trust me. I love you, I’m not going to let anything like that happen to you again.”

The excellence of the series!

  1. I loved the Italian countryside the most. The reflections on the pool as Connell calmed Marianne after the fight with Jamie was also stunning.
  2. I think that the book is also a very emotional one and the series has done fantastic in that it was able to bring onto screen those emotions. I did not cry when I read the book but I sobbed while I watched the grand acting of these two actors.
  3. The subtle changes that were in the series (from the novel) just made it more heart-wrenching. The way Connell was kind of a passive person who went with the flow and denied his relationship with Marianne was again heart wrenching on screen.
    • Also the way Connell sobbed after the Debs party – that just got to me.
  4. Moreover, in the book Marianne never really says ‘I love you’ to Connell (in the series she does), and so you have to ask who is the more repressed person here.
  5. The portrayal of when Connell was disgusted with the phoniness of university students who do not read the books but act as if they have, was also on point. This bit was better portrayed on the show. The imposter syndrome stuff was done well here.
    • The series also delves more into the mental health issues of Connell and the deplorable family conditions and relationships of Marianne – the abuse and everything.
  6. Regarding Marianne’s trauma (from the abuse she has suffered at the hands of her brother), she has come to believe that she deserves the bad treatment she often gets. In this context, I do have to say that the overlap that was done in the series – Lukas and her in the photoshoot session, while Connell reads his email in the background about what he thinks about this – that just because bad things may have happened to her, doesn’t mean that she deserves them, was very insightful and amazing. Something that the book was unable to do.
  7. The disconnect from life was shown very aesthetically via the slow sequences, for Marianne and Connell.
  8. The series also did well with the portrayal of other characters especially that of Niall and Lorraine.
    • The series also better explored the character of Niall. In the book, I honestly didn’t care about him enough – he just wasn’t there enough.
    • The mother-son dynamic was awesome in the book and it was just as awesome in the series. I loved it.

The endings!

The end of the book left me dissatisfied because it felt like they had not learned a lesson that they need to communicate! Instead, Marianne just pushes Connell away yet again yet simply telling him that she loves him.

In this regard, I think that the series does better. It establishes the two characters as two individuals on their own, yet with an undeniable need and want for each other. They are bound forever and in a way, they are in this healthy relationship that shows them their value based on their individual selves. In a way, it is a new beginning for them. 

My ratings!

  • I rated Normal People, the book, 3/5 stars!
  • I rated Normal People, the series, 4.5/5 stars!
Normal People by Sally Rooney: my ratings!
Normal People by Sally Rooney: my ratings!

Links

Goodreads
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Amazon
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After She Wrote Him: A review

AFTER SHE WROTE HIM
AFTER SHE WROTE HIM

Thanks to Netgalley for this fantastic read!

My God! This was an astounding read. I have never before come across a novel that so well threaded together the lines of literary fiction and crime. So well did this weaving take place that I was facing a dilemma – do I hurry up and finish the book at one go (like I would for any crime novel), or do I savour it and live through it a day at a time (as I do for literary fiction). That is to say, I was torn between my love for it as a crime novel, and contrastingly as literary fiction.

AFTER SHE WROTE HIM is a pioneer in reaching for what has never been reached out for (at least in my humble reading career). If there are more books in this particular niche, I owe it to this, my first such novel, for introducing to this world.

Literary fiction novels have the capacity to make me think and introspect quite a bit. On the other hand, I am a criminal psychologist, trying to figure out the mystery when I read crime fiction. Bringing these together was an utter delight to my mind fortress and I applaud the writer for her superb skill in doing so.

The characters are alive – they jump out of the novel right at you – both with their realistic subtlety and also with the fantastic phantasm that the author creates. I lived through Madeline and I breathed through Edward. And may I just say that this twists your mind? You are left grasping for straws as you oscillate between deciding what is real and what is not.

My only reason for rating this book a 4.5 star and taking away the 0.5 was for the ending which left me pining for a more solid end. But that is not to say that I did not like the ending – in fact, I did. It was, at the same time, more solid and real than it could ever have been. But the book transforms you and you are left, longing to be a part of the lives of these two main characters.

I have really loved this book and can only try my best to persuade you to read it soon! Please do! It is a tour de force!
Thanks to #netgalley for #AfterSheWroteHim !

Check out the book on Amazon, or add it to your Goodreads TBR list!

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Swimming in the Dark: A love letter

Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski

SWIMMING IN THE DARK was incandescent!! It is perfect for fans of #callmebyyourname and #aristotleanddante and also #redwhiteandroyalblue ! It was also my last read of February and my second 5⭐ read of the month!

The book is a beautiful and evocative story set in the early 1980s Poland. As such, the political scenario is quite an intricate part of the narrative and it also shapes the thoughts and actions of the characters. The story is told by Ludwik Glowacki a Polish man living in America. The whole novel is actually him reminiscing about his past, and more so, as if writing it for his former lover Janusz. Janusz is addressed in the second person and it really made me remember Call Me By Your Name. Ludwik’s story starts from when he was of 9 years of age and met and fell in love with his neighbour Beniek, a Jewish boy, to his early 20s romance with Janusz.

Check it out on Goodreads!

The book’s central themes include Ludwik’s realisation of his sexuality, the way he deals with it, especially in a society where this is frowned upon, and thus, the aspect of shame associated with it; discovery of his selfhood as well as the tumultuous political times of Poland wrought with various trials for the people.

Check it out on Amazon!

Swimming in the Dark
Swimming in the Dark

There is a beautiful sense of the bittersweet that envelops Jedrowski’s writing. I am entirely in love with it and am looking forward to a follow up to this fantastic debut. The way the author has portrayed the conflicting feelings that Ludwik has for Janusz because of their differing political ideologies etc, is also great. With such a lyrical prose and tragic undertones, this was a truly unique read, that will leave it’s warmth with me, like a dying hearth of fire, for a really long time.

Very Nice , by Marcy Dermansky, 2019

Title: Very Nice

Author: Marcy Dermansky

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Genre: Literary Fiction

Format: Paperback

Language: English

Synopsis:

A brilliantly funny novel of money, sex, race, and bad behavior in the post-Obama era, featuring a wealthy Connecticut divorcée, her college-age daughter, and the famous American novelist who is seduced by them both.

Rachel Klein never meant to kiss her creative writing professor, but with his long eyelashes, his silky hair, and the sad, beautiful life he laid bare on Twitter, she does, and the kiss is very nice. Zahid Azzam never planned to become a houseguest in his student’s sprawling Connecticut home, but with the sparkling swimming pool, the endless supply of Whole Foods strawberries, and Rachel’s beautiful mother, he does, and the home is very nice. Becca Klein never thought she’d have a love affair so soon after her divorce, but when her daughter’s professor walks into her home, bringing with him an apricot standard poodle named Princess, she does, and the affair is…a very bad idea. In a darkly hilarious novel that zigzags between the rarified circles of Manhattan investment banking, the achingly self-serious MFA programs of the Midwest, and the private bedrooms of Connecticut, Marcy Dermansky has written an audacious, addictive, and wickedly smart take on the way we live now.

My review:

I received a review copy from the publishers in return for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Very Nice was a fairly fast-paced novel – that read like a soap opera. It certainly was fun to read this book and I believe it was the perfect summer read, to be read by the pool. The story is told through various characters’ povs so we see varying perspectives in the alternating thread of storytelling. It is linear with a fluid writing that reads really well.

We have Rachel, a college student who has a crush on her creative writing professor – Zahid Azzam, who is also a well-renowned author. She seduces him, they have sex and Rachel starts thinking that he likes her for it. However, everything is not as it seems. For instance, the characters portray something else – a sense of individuality and accomplishment, you could say, but underneath it all, there are such conflicting emotions. By a chance of fate, Zahid ends up living in Rachel’s house and has an affair with her mother, Becca. However, Dermansky has played well with the creation of the interrelationships among the various characters in this book. It seems everyone is related to everyone in one way or the other. The way their threads are intertwined proves to be a very interesting read.

The book also has various themes peeking out through the various narratives. With Khloe, we see the misogynistic nature of the world that she has to face in her finance job. Becca deals with dissatisfaction and a sense of acute restlessness and incompleteness. Jonathan deals with the fleeting sense of joy as he leaves his wife Becca for the much younger Mandy, only to slowly realize that it is not how he wants to live. The inner monologues of the characters, especially that of Rachel, is very interesting. The idea of self-image and self-identity is very important here too. we see Zahid struggling with it, and we also see Rachel struggling with the idea or the image she has of Zahid. There is also inclusion of political themes such as gun laws (in relation to the incident faced by Becca once, as she was confronted by Amelia’s brother), varying political ideologies etc. the manner of writing is quite electric to be honest, and at first I was not sure of what I felt regarding the short sentences. I found it weird, but not bad though. After a while, I got used to it and quite enjoyed it, in fact. 

Despite all the differences in the characters’ personalities, and, they are human – and flawed in a way we all can also certainly relate to. It was very easy to relate to the characters. I felt so accomplished myself when Zahid’s writing was going well, for instance.

The writing continues to be witty, and although the author deals with some abject issues, it is still fun and a buoyant read overall.

Verdict:

An enjoyable read, I rated it 4/5 stars.

About the reviewer:

Nayanika Saikia, is one of the foremost book reviewers from the North-east and Assam, and is also an admin for the official India bookstagram page on Instagram. She publishes her own reviews and recommendations for poetry, fiction, non-fiction etc. on her bookstagram account @pretty_little_bibliophile which won the NorthEast Creator Awards 2018, as well as in daily newspapers, online magazines etc.  She can be contacted at nayanikasaikia98@gmail.com .