4 Books For When You’ve Finished Reading (or Binge-Watching) Normal People
posted on July 9, 2020 | by Megan Lierley
One perk of quarantine is that I’ve had a lot more time to zoom through my ‘to-read’ list. I’ve found that my good and bad days during COVID (it’s a rollercoaster!) tend to be correlated to whether or not I have a good book to get lost in. If that resonates with you at all, I’m excited to share some favorites—especially for those of you who loved Sally Rooney’s Normal People. And if you haven’t read it yet, first of all, do that! And second, these recommendations are for anyone who is into smart, insightful commentary on love, relationships, and well, being human.
1. Conversations With Friends
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. My sister-in-law gifted me Conversations With Friends two Christmases ago, long before Connell’s Chain became the highlight of my lockdown. Rooney’s first novel packs the same astute, observational punch as Normal People, though this one tackles the intricacies and complexities of female friendship. The plot revolves around Frances and Bobbi, best friends living in Dublin, where Frances writes poetry that she and the wildly confident and self-possessed Bobbi perform together. While at a performance, they meet Melissa, a well-known and older photographer, who invites the two girls to her house where they meet Melissa’s husband, Nick. As the foursome’s relationships—both platonic and romantic—unfold, through whip-smart dialogue and layered character development, Rooney shares her keen insights into politics, art, literature, and most importantly and memorably, human connection.
Another novel about female friendship, Expectation follows friends Hannah, Cate, and Lissa from college through early adulthood. There are broken marriages, babies, affairs, career questions, and most central to the novel’s intrigue: jealousy with what the others have. This honest take on friendship will resonate with anyone who has ever drifted away from a friend, craved the career/partner/life trajectory someone else has, or experienced heartbreak, so I’d say, just about everyone has something to gain from Anna Hope’s thoughtful, sensual fiction debut.
3. Everything I Know About Love
The only non-fiction of the bunch, I included this one because in this memoir about her college days and twenties, writer Dolly Alderton manages to expose the intricacies of heartbreak, female friendship, and finding confidence in oneself in such an incredibly resonant way I found myself nodding along with most of the book. What I love most about Rooney’s writing is the way she can craft dialogue and characters that feel so real and deep they help put words to our own thoughts and experiences, and Dolly does the same in telling her own story. It’s also laugh out loud funny.
4. Exciting Times
The newest publication of the bunch, Exciting Times came out in April 2020 and still isn’t available in hard copy in the U.S (I read it on my Kindle). Ava is a Dubliner working as a TEFL teacher in Hong Kong who spends much of her time with Julian—a banker who simultaneously keeps her at arm’s distance (or does she, him? It’s hard to tell) and lets Ava live with him rent-free. Their relationship, so relatable and so agonizing to watch, feels very Marianne and Connell in Normal People, and Naoise Dolan very Sally Rooney with her big vocab and incredibly astute observations into the intricate nuance—yet relatable similarities—found in romantic relationships. Things take more of a Conversations With Friends turn, however, when Ava meets Edith. Exciting Times is a page-turning, sometimes fun, sometimes schadenfreude, look at sexuality, politics, family dynamics, and class.
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