Normal People by Sally Rooney – a literary mixtape

I became so involved with Marianne and Connell that I never wanted to leave them. If you haven’t yet read Normal People by Sally Rooney, hop to it.

4.5/5 Half a mark off because I didn’t cry.

Mad World | Tears for Fears

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.

It’s Only the Beginning | Deborah Conway

Connell, as usual, did not speak to Marianne in school or even look at her. She watched him across classrooms as he conjugated verbs, chewing on the end of his pen. On the other side of the cafeteria at lunchtime, smiling about something with his friends. Their secret weighed inside her body pleasurably, pressing down on her pelvic bone when she moved.

She’s the One | Robbie Williams

In school on Monday he had to avoid looking at Marianne or interacting with her in any way. He carried the secret around like something large and hot, like an overfull tray of hot drinks that he had to carry everywhere and never spill.

Torn | Natalie Imbruglia

I like you so much, Marianne said. Connell felt a pleasurable sorrow come over him, which brought him close to tears. Moments of emotional pain arrived like this, meaningless or at least indecipherable. Marianne lived a drastically free life, he could see that. He was trapped by various considerations. He cared what people thought of him. He even cared what Marianne thought, that was obvious now.

You Were Always On My Mind | Pet Shop Boys

Then she says: I would never pretend not to know you, Connell. The silence becomes very intense after that…Of course, he pretends not to know Marianne in school, but he didn’t mean to bring that up. That’s just the way it has to be.

Bitter Sweet Symphony | The Verve

She has never believed herself fit to be loved by any person. But now she has a new life, of which this is the first moment, and even after many years have passed she will still think: Yes, that was it, the beginning of my life.

Ti Amo | Laura Brannigan

He couldn’t understand how this had happened, how he had let the discussion slip away like this. It was too late to say he wanted to stay with her, that was clear, but when had it become too late? It seemed to have happened immediately.

Chequered Love | Kim Wilde

Marianne had a wildness that got into him for a while and made him feel that he was like her, that they had the same unnameable spiritual injury, and that neither of them could ever fit into the world. But he was never damaged like she was. She just made him feel that way.

Boys Don’t Cry | The Cure

Their feelings were suppressed so carefully in everyday life, forced into smaller and smaller spaces, until seemingly minor events took on insane and frightening significance.

Don’t Stop Me Now | Queen

Connell went home that night and read over some notes he had been making for a new story, and he felt the old beat of pleasure inside his body, like watching a perfect goal, like the rustling movement of light through leaves, a phrase of music from the window of a passing car. Life offers up these moments of joy despite everything.

Gun | The Plums

Not for the first time Marianne thinks cruelty does not only hurt the victim, but the perpetrator also, and maybe more deeply and more permanently. You learn nothing very profound about yourself simply by being bullied; but by bullying someone else you learn something you can never forget.

Heavy Heart | You Am I

If people appeared to behave pointlessly in grief, it was only because human life was pointless, and this was the truth that grief revealed.

Love Hurts | Nazareth

But for her the pain of loneliness will be nothing to the pain that she used to feel, of being unworthy.


As part of the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, I’m comparing the Belfast summer and Melburnian winter. The results for the day I finished this book (July 14): Belfast 10°-22° and Melbourne 8°-17°.

22 responses

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  2. Hi Kate, I love how you find the songs to fit the events in this novel. I have read Normal People and thought it was great. Marianne was my heroine.

  3. My first (ex) wife played Love Hurts over and over and over. Amongst the many things driving me mad at the time, that might have been the worst! Sorry, haven’t read the book.

    • I totally get that – music can take you right back to a moment, good or bad.

      When I was writing my Masters thesis I listened to Barbara Streisand and Barry Gibb’s ‘Guilty’ album on loop. The day I finished my thesis, I walked into the living room and announced to my flatmate that I was done. She didn’t say a word but got up, marched into my room, hit eject on the CD player and, holding up Guilty, said “I never want to hear this again.” We’re still friends but I never play Streisand when she’s over 😀

  4. Glad you loved this book too & love the playlist – Tears for Fears!! Pet Shop Boys!! And how many times have a yelled out Ti Amo, with my arms slung around my friends shoulders, after a night of drinking!! 😀

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