“The conversations that follow are gratifying for Connell, often taking unexpected turns and prompting him to express ideas he had never consciously formulated before. They talk about the novels he’s reading, the research she studies, the precise historical moment that they are currently living in, the difficulty of observing such a moment in process. At times he has the sensation that he and Marianne are like figure-skaters, improvising their discussions so adeptly and in such perfect synchronisation that it surprises them both. She tosses herself gracefully into the air, and each time, without knowing how he’s going to do it, he catches her.”
Set in Ireland, Connell and Marianne form a connection through their disjointed interactions. Despite the initial awkwardness, the connection lasts – from their first conversation to their years at Trinity College, readers witness the lasting effects of love, friendship, and trauma between Connell and Marianne.
The complexity of the relationship between Connell and Marianne is something that is constantly revisited by Rooney through the progression of the novel. They are both drawn back to each other, despite relationships they may have formed with other people during their time apart. The love they have is complicated and tiring and dark sometimes, but it is also so much more. It is warm and nurturing and protective. Rooney successfully portrays both sides of the coin when it comes to a relationship that is unknowingly toxic. It’s an accurate representation of how a first love can be perfect, right up until it isn’t, and how dependency can become unhealthy. Through their significant character development, readers are aware that Marianne and Connell both learn to grow with and without each other – they learn to become independent of each other, but Marianne will always be there for Connell anyway (and vice versa).
Rooney’s style of writing is simplistic, but please don’t mistaken this to mean ‘boring’ or ‘monotonous’. She writes about normal people in their normal lives, but her words feel like a punch in the gut when I read them, and reread them, and realise that I resonate with the situation more than I’d like to admit. Her writing style has no faults. Despite this, however, the ending fell a little flat with me. For me, things were left unresolved. I don’t expect every loose string to be tied up by page 266, but I expected some strings to be slightly tugged, at least. Marianne’s unhealthy eating habit (possibly an eating disorder?) is introduced three quarters of the way into the plot, and then never mentioned again. Is she still suffering? Does she recover? We don’t know. The character development that had occurred so naturally throughout the novel had also regressed immediately in the last few pages, as Marianne and Connell have yet another argument due to a misunderstanding. A key flaw in their relationship was miscommunication; almost every argument we see in the novel stems from miscommunication. Every conflict of theirs really could have been solved much quicker if one of them sat down and said, “Look. What did you mean when you said this?” Alas, they didn’t and here we are.
Overall, I really did love this book. I’m not too keen on the ending, but Rooney’s style of writing captivated me from the beginning. Some passages in the novel hit me hard and reminded me that first love does not mean the best love, nor does it mean it is the only love you will experience. Beautifully conveyed, you will find yourself switching back and forth between loving and hating Connell and Marianne because of how flawed they are. And that’s okay. It is a stark reminder that they are normal people who are trying their utmost hardest.