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.
Synopsis from Goodreads
This book comes highly recommended on a lot of suggested book lists, so my book club decided to read it! I loved the idea of following two characters over years of their lives and how they keep coming back to each other, but I ultimately found my own feelings confused about how I felt about this book...
Hard Time Connecting with Characters
So this is a problem I seem to have with a lot of "millennial" characters - I just don't understand them. While I'm part of this generation, it's the same issue I have with the characters on the show Girls...they just don't seem realistic to me based on myself and my friends. Apparently this is a really singular response, because the rest of my club didn't have this issue, but I had a hard time connecting with either Connell or Marianne. They are just so constantly dissatisfied with their lives and it's never really clear why. Connell spends most of the book whining and Marianne seems to walk around with her head in the clouds. While I wanted to know what happens in their story, neither of them really made an impression on me.
Is Anyone Truly Good or Bad?
I loved that these are relatively complex characters when it comes to the choices they make in their personal and educational lives. There's never a clear "good" or "bad" character, but simply young people trying to figure out who they are. While it's easy to hate Connell at the beginning of the book, your heart still breaks when he's in his therapy sessions. Likewise, Marianne is constantly making horrible mistakes and is frustrating to watch her spiral, but it's hard to blame her when she comes from such a messed up, dysfunctional family life. Even the secondary characters (with the exception of Marianne's BFF in university) live in the grey area between good and bad and it's really great to read this.
Mixed Feelings About the Ending
So here's another big "hmmmm...did I like this?" for me - the ending. I don't want to get into details, but the ending is fairly abrupt and I really feel like we are missing an epilogue of some sort. So much happens quickly at the end of the novel and then we are just cut off. But beyond that, I was frustrated that after watching Connell and Marianne grow up, we are sent back at the beginning with some of the same problems they've always had. Marianne especially seems to take a big step back from all her progress, which is really depressing after watching her story unfold. I'm really interested to see what others think about this ending!
Overall, I thought this was a really intriguing book and I've recommended it to a lot of people. Although it's not necessarily my favourite, I'm still giving it a high rating because I think it would resonate with a lot of readers and the storytelling is so well done (not having quotation marks when characters are talking was a really interesting style choice by the author). I'd recommend this to readers who enjoy contemporary literary fiction, those looking for a well-written writing style, or anyone interested is a fresh take on the difficulties of falling in love as millennials.
FINAL RATING: 4/5
Hi, I'm Alexandra! I love reading (largely YA fiction, but sometimes I'll read "adult" books), playing board games, Nutella, and binge-watching TV shows on Netflix with my husband.
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