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Normal People

Normal People Summary


Here you will find a Normal People summary (Sally Rooney's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

Normal People Summary Overview

In a small Irish town, Marianne Sheridan and Connell Waldron are two high school students who share a love for reading, world affairs and social justice, and they are about to step into their college life. Marianne, who comes from a well-off family but suffers from emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her brother and indifferent mother, struggles with her self-esteem. On the other hand, Connell's mother, Lorraine, works as a cleaner for the Sheridan family, a job she took after dropping out of school due to her unexpected pregnancy with Connell. Although Connell is popular in school due to his athletic abilities and good looks, he is privately insecure, uncomfortable about his humble background, and inarticulate in conversations. Despite their differences, Marianne and Connell find themselves drawn towards each other, fostered by their frequent encounters when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her cleaning job. Marianne, an introvert at school, confesses her feelings for Connell in private, and he reciprocates, though he struggles to express his feelings publicly due to his concern for his social standing. Their relationship takes a hit when Connell, under societal pressure, asks another girl to the senior dance, leading to Marianne's humiliation and the subsequent end of their school-time relationship. Their paths cross again at a university in Dublin. Marianne has blossomed in the new environment and is dating Gareth, a staunch rightist, while Connell, despite his academic achievements, feels out of place due to his lower-class background. Their on-and-off relationship continues amid multiple breakups and new relationships. Marianne explores masochistic desires in her relationships, while Connell struggles with his sense of social inferiority. Their relationship is further strained by Marianne's abusive family situation and Connell's own personal struggles, including the impact of a friend's suicide. As they approach graduation, they realize the profound influence they've had on each other's lives, acknowledging the love and support they've shared despite the numerous ups and downs.

chapter 1

Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are residents of Carricklea, a small Irish village near Sligo. Marianne lost her father at thirteen, and Connell, whose parentage is a secret known only to his mother Lorraine, was raised by her after she left school to care for him. Lorraine works as a cleaner at Marianne's home, and Connell usually arrives in the afternoons to drive her home since she doesn't drive. On one such afternoon, while Lorraine is busy with laundry, Marianne engages Connell in conversation. Despite being the most intelligent girl in their school, her peculiar fashion sense and disdain for her peers have made her unpopular. Connell is also intelligent, but he's introverted, often feels awkward, and struggles with articulation. He finds the flirtations of his economics teacher, Miss Neary, unsettling and is uncertain about his lack of attraction towards her. He's also troubled by his sexual encounters which haven't been pleasant, and he's embarrassed by the circulating gossip that he harbors feelings for Miss Neary. Yet, if Connell harbors feelings for anyone, it's Marianne. At school, they feign ignorance of each other to avoid the embarrassment of association, given Marianne's low social standing. When they're alone, Marianne teases Connell with provocative remarks, making him feel uncomfortable. Around her, he finds himself saying things he wouldn't dare say to anyone else, knowing she'll keep his secrets. In the midst of their conversation, Marianne confesses her feelings for him. But before Connell can respond, Lorraine re-enters the room, leaving him to awkwardly say goodbye.

chapter 2

Marianne, a book lover, despises school's formal wear and absurd regulations, such as compulsory participation at sports activities. During a soccer match featuring Connell, she wasn’t interested in the game but fantasized about watching Connell becoming intimate with someone. She is aware that her unconventional thoughts separate her from her schoolmates. After their kitchen dialogue, Connell started visiting Marianne more frequently. She found his company both exhilarating and exhausting. When Connell asked her to clarify her feelings for him, she confessed her romantic interest in him. Connell reciprocated with a kiss. Teasing that she seemed inexperienced with kissing, Marianne confirmed it was her first time. During Connell's next visit, they ventured into her bedroom and shared a kiss. Marianne expressed a desire to undress, but he suggested they refrain. As Marianne prepared to leave her house, her elder brother Alan gripped her arm painfully, interrogating her about her lack of social life. She assured him that she was merely going out for a stroll. Nonetheless, she found herself at Connell's doorstep soon after, who ushered her in while ensuring they weren't spotted.

chapter 3

In bed with Marianne, Connell is preoccupied with his college choices. He had intended to pursue Law in Galway but cannot see himself as a lawyer. Marianne suggests he study English at Trinity College in Dublin, where she's planning to study History and Politics, noting their shared passion for reading. Connell experiences an unusual closeness towards Marianne, despite her lack of popularity at school and average looks. He views her life as unrestricted while he feels confined. Choosing to study Law would maintain his current life, but opting for English in Dublin would sever his ties with his home, Carricklea. He fears his existing friends would view him as unsuccessful or simply forget him. He grapples with the notion of leading a dual life, a challenge he finds impossible. In the quiet closeness with Marianne, he settles on studying English at Trinity. He deludes himself into thinking that he can live his life at school and his life with Marianne independently.

chapter 4

Marianne finds herself as a member of the school dance committee, which requires her to attend a fundraising event at a nightclub. The club will also be attended by Connell, and Rachel Moran, the head of the committee who insinuates that she and Connell are romantically linked. However, Connell and Marianne have recently grown closer, even sharing an outing to a desolate housing estate. Marianne's suggestive banter unsettled Connell, similar to how the dilapidated buildings troubled her. Marianne, in a fitted black dress, is at the club before Connell, who comes with his friends Rob and Eric. Eric, who once insulted Marianne, now compliments her. Unaccustomed to drinking, Marianne becomes slightly tipsy. While at the bar, a man roughly touches her, causing her to seek solace in a hallway. Connell finds her there, expressing worry, which triggers Rachel's jealousy. He rebukes Rachel, offering to drive Marianne home. However, Connell brings Marianne to his place as his mother, Lorraine, is asleep. In his room, Marianne shares her fears of physical abuse, revealing her father's violent behavior towards her mother. Connell reassures her, declaring his love and admiration for her. This moment signifies the beginning of a new chapter in Marianne's life, a belief she holds onto for years to come.

chapter 5

Connell grapples with the authenticity of his love declaration to Marianne. After their intimate encounter, they awaken to Lorraine, Connell's mother, returning from the supermarket. Upon Marianne's departure, Lorraine expresses her fondness for Marianne and probes Connell about their relationship status, which he tries to avoid. At school the following day, Connell vehemently denies having been intimate with Marianne to his friends, who jokingly suggest he escort her to the dance. Marianne's previous comment about him being a nice person triggers a wave of sickness in the bathroom. After a hospital visit to Connell's grandmother following her fall, Connell breaks the news to Lorraine that he invited Rachel to the dance instead of Marianne. Lorraine's anger flares upon discovering Marianne is yet to know of this decision, leading her to insist on leaving the car and taking a bus home.

chapter 6

Connell disclosed to Marianne his plans to attend the dance with Rachel, prompting Marianne to quit attending school unless it was for tests. Her mother was irate, but Lorraine, their cleaner, was empathetic, assuring Marianne that Connell wasn't worth her time. Marianne didn't harbor much resentment towards Connell at this stage. She was aware that he had enjoyed their intimate moments, even though she believed he found her unappealing. She comforted herself with the thought that Connell had to live with his actions. News reached Alan that Connell had aced his exams. In a bid to ridicule Marianne, whose grades fell just shy of perfect, Alan managed to get Connell on the phone and proposed he speak to Marianne. Alan was taken aback when Connell agreed, and subsequently infuriated when Marianne declined the offer. Marianne was indifferent because she was on the verge of embarking on a new journey away from Alan and her neglectful mother.

chapter 7

When Marianne quit school in spring, Connell grew despondent. He felt guilt over his poor treatment of her, but she avoided his attempts at communication. His mother, Lorraine, agreed that his guilt was justified but also pitied him. Connell tried to divert his attention through drinking and engaging in sexual activities with various girls such as Rachel, but found no pleasure in the act. He was taken aback when he discovered that his friends were aware of his relationship with Marianne and were indifferent. He had inflicted pain on Marianne and himself for no reason. After being at Trinity for some time, Connell is asked to a party by a barely known classmate, Gareth. Surprisingly, Gareth's girlfriend is Marianne, who seems popular at the gathering. Marianne welcomes Connell warmly and confesses to missing him. When Connell reveals his past short-lived relationship with Rachel, Marianne seems genuinely empathetic. Their interaction is reminiscent of their past conversations, including a discussion about Gareth’s conservative political views. Connell has the urge to apologize to Marianne for his past behavior, but finds himself unable to.

chapter 8

In this section, Marianne and Connell grapple with self-reinvention as they start college. Marianne, once introverted, is now popular, with a boyfriend and a group of friends. Her outward appearance reflects her newfound confidence and independence. Connell, however, struggles with depression and feelings of inadequacy, both intellectually and economically. He finds solace in literature, which gives him an outlet and a broader understanding of human experiences and relationships. They both seek to break away from their old identities formed in their small hometown. The ongoing theme of abuse in Marianne's life is further disclosed. Her brother, Alan, takes pleasure in belittling her academic achievements, comparing them to Connell's superior grades. He resorts to physical violence when Marianne doesn't react. Equally abusive, Marianne's mother exhibits cruel behavior, making food for Marianne only to throw it away, leading Marianne towards an eating disorder. Lorraine provides some emotional comfort but is unable to intervene effectively. Despite Marianne's efforts to stay out of their way, her family continues to inflict deep emotional harm on her.

chapter 9

Marianne joins a party where Connell is present. After drinking with friends Peggy and Joanna, she discovers the girl Connell occasionally dates isn't there. She makes a move on Connell, asking him to sleep with her, but he declines. The following day, Connell assures her there's no need to apologize for her actions. Meanwhile, Connell has become familiar to Marianne's friends. He's well-liked by the girls but the boys find him dull. They're shocked when Marianne asserts that Connell is more intelligent than her. Connell trumps in a pool game and they head back to Marianne's place. He eventually says sorry for his past behavior, revealing that their secret relationship wasn't a secret after all. After making love twice, they drift off to sleep.

chapter 10

Connell manages to pay his bills through a job from Marianne's friend's father. Their usual nights involve dinner, talking about recent headlines and societal patterns, and intimacy. However, Marianne recently returned from a short visit to Carricklea in a somber state after arguments with her family and a pregnancy scare. Marianne wondered how her family and Connell's would have reacted to the news. Connell assured her that regardless, her family would still care for her, to which Marianne gave no response. Connell shows up at Marianne's after she's had company. The last to leave is Peggy, who, under the influence, queries whether Marianne and Connell are romantically involved. Marianne confirms they are intimate but not "a couple," leading Peggy to propose a threesome. Connell considers the possibility of being with Peggy in Marianne’s presence but not vice versa. His relationship with Marianne is too personal, too intertwined with his own identity. Marianne declines, citing self-consciousness. Once Peggy leaves, Marianne admits she would have agreed if it was what Connell wanted. He advises her against doing things she's uncomfortable with. Then, a disturbing thought enters Connell's mind—he could physically harm Marianne, and she wouldn’t resist him. This unnerving thought leaves Connell feeling sick.

chapter 11

Connell returns to his hometown for summer break after his end-of-term exams, no longer in a relationship with Marianne. She believed he desired to explore relationships with others. Marianne regretted singing praises of his sensitivity and intellect to everyone. Her friend, Joanna was deeply puzzled by Connell's actions. Marianne is in Carricklea for a memorial Mass marking the anniversary of her father's demise. She crosses paths with Connell and his mother, Lorraine, at the grocery store, leading to polite chatter and an offer from them to drive her home. After dropping Lorraine, Connell takes Marianne to her place. During the drive, Marianne apologizes for not responding to his messages and reveals she's seeing Jamie, a guy Connell had outplayed at pool five months prior. Connell refuses Marianne's invitation to enter her house but assures her he will attend the Mass the following morning.

chapter 12

Connell had to move back home after his work cut his hours and he couldn't pay his rent. He considered asking Marianne to stay with her but felt awkward about their differing financial situations. When he told Marianne he had to leave his flat, she assumed he was returning home. He didn't correct her but suggested she might want to see others. He was heartbroken and spent a miserable summer. After Marianne's father's Mass, Connell got extremely drunk and almost couldn't resist his old teacher's advances. Later, at a cafe, Connell and Marianne meet up. She discloses that she's been dating Jamie, a wealthy man whose father is notorious in finance, since Connell left for the summer. She also reveals the disturbing fact that Jamie physically abuses her during sex, a practice she suggested. Disturbed and scared, Connell learns that Marianne feels a perverse sense of self-degradation from this. She assures him that with Jamie, she's merely acting, but she would genuinely do anything for Connell. Connell is relieved that their friendship remains unaffected.

chapter 13

During her Christmas visit home, Marianne's brother Alan spits at her and calls her pathetic, which their mother dismisses as "a little sibling rivalry." Later, she's at her apartment with her partner Jamie and other friends when Connell contacts her. He's been robbed, left penniless, and is calling from a borrowed phone. Marianne invites him over, promising to cover the cost of his taxi ride. Upon his bloody and bruised arrival, her friends show worry and sympathy before excusing themselves. Jamie is taken aback when Marianne expects him to exit as well. Once they're alone, Connell advises Marianne to find a new boyfriend and admits he's dating another woman, Helen, whom he's in love with. This disclosure brings Marianne to tears. Connell reveals he was baffled by their split, as he had hoped she would offer him to stay at her place over the summer. Marianne assures him he would have always been welcome.

chapter 14

Connell enjoys being around others when accompanied by Helen, despite her slightly patronizing attitude and rural boy jibes. He convinces himself that their relationship is healthy and mainstream compared to his unconventional bond with Marianne. After getting acquainted with Marianne, Helen labels her as egocentric and promiscuous, which unsettles Connell. However, he still feels more at home with Helen than with Marianne. During April, both Marianne and Connell secure university scholarships. For Connell, this offers the financial freedom to travel. Hence, while Helen spends her summer in Chicago, Connell tours Europe. He, his ex-roommate Niall, and Niall’s girlfriend are travelling to Trieste to meet Marianne, Jaime, and Peggy at a family-owned cottage. Connell and Marianne correspond daily through in-depth emails, covering their holiday experiences to global affairs. Connell relishes this creative outlet and has even started penning stories, although he has yet to share them with Marianne. During a dinner in Trieste, Jamie turns obnoxious after consuming alcohol and instigates a fight with Marianne. Connell intervenes, noticing Marianne's deteriorating physical health while consoling her. That evening, Marianne shares her room with Connell, unburdening her experiences of domestic abuse and her mother’s apathy. She questions her inability to conform to societal norms. As they start getting intimate, Marianne withdraws, leaving Connell embarrassed and regretful for trying to take advantage of her vulnerability.

chapter 15

Marianne is spending an academic year in Lund, Sweden. After her split with Jamie, he turned most of their friends against her, except Joanna who stayed loyal to Marianne. Marianne is now seeing Lukas, a photographer with sadistic tendencies reminiscent of Jamie. He degrades her during sex and controls her actions afterward. This induces a peaceful depression in Marianne. Discarding her half-eaten breakfast, Marianne ascends to Lukas's loft for a photoshoot. She undresses and allows Lukas to bind her, but recoils in horror when he professes his love for her. She threatens to involve the police, hastily dresses, and exits. Lukas is left confused. Once outside, Marianne ponders on Lukas's warped expression of love.

chapter 16

Connell is struggling with a deep depression at Trinity University. His guilt intensifies when he learns about the suicide of Rob, a close school friend he lost touch with. His relationship with Helen ends after she realizes Connell still harbors feelings for Marianne during Rob's funeral. Connell despises his life at the university, frustrated by the status-conscious students who seem worse than his old classmates. He is disturbed by negative comments about Marianne, particularly those from Jamie who claims there are explicit pictures of Marianne online. Taking advice from Niall, Connell visits a counselor, although he only pretends to accept her recommendations after she expresses concern about his mental health. A more positive interaction happens when Connell attends a book reading. He bonds with the author who sympathizes with his difficulties fitting in at Trinity. The author humorously suggests Connell's experiences could lead to a collection of stories, a notion that lightens Connell's mood.

chapter 17

Marianne returns to her family home for the summer, after her time at Trinity. During the weekend, Connell comes to visit from his job at the college library. The two of them had recently attended a protest in Dublin, where Connell confessed his love for her without hesitation during their drive back to Carricklea. One evening, while watching soccer with Connell in his room, Marianne confronts him about his actions the previous night at a club. She had wanted him to kiss her whilst dancing, but he chose to go out for a smoke. Connell explains it away as a misunderstanding and shares how their relationship has benefited him. Marianne, hurt by his lack of empathy, decides to leave. Connell does kiss her eventually, leading to intercourse, but declines when Marianne asks him to hit her. Upset and feeling worthless, she insists on returning home. Upon reaching home, she encounters Alan, who has learned about her relationship with Connell. A violent confrontation ensues, as Alan follows Marianne to her room and forcefully opens her door, hitting her in the face and breaking her nose.

chapter 18

Soon after Marianne departs, Lorraine arrives home. She's heard rumors of Connell's old girlfriend being pregnant, prompting her to ask him about his current relationship status with Marianne. Connell assures her that Marianne is not pregnant, and he most definitely wouldn't be the father if she were. He's at a loss for what to add. After Marianne left, he secluded himself in his room, overcome with tears. He feels cornered, and his antidepressants aren't making a difference. He possesses a unique control over Marianne, but also, she has a special hold on the part of him that matters most. But, he believes their relationship has only resulted in confusion and unhappiness. As luck would have it, Marianne reaches out, having "tripped or something", and is hurt. She agrees to Connell's offer to visit her. When he arrives and spots Alan in the background, the pieces come together for him. He instructs Marianne to wait in his car and then threatens Alan, warning him that if he mistreats Marianne again, he will face dire consequences. Terrified and tearful, Alan acknowledges the warning. Inside the car, Connell reassures Marianne, promising her that such an incident won't repeat.

chapter 19

After a night at Marianne's place, Connell expresses regret for his excessive drinking at the previous evening's event. Connell, currently editing for the university's literary magazine, had his work featured in it the prior year. It was thanks to Sadie, the previous editor with an apparent crush on Connell, who spiked the launch party with vodka punch, resulting in a drunken Connell needing Marianne's assistance to get home. Before Marianne showers, she inquires about Sadie. Connell reassures her he has no romantic interest in Sadie, but confesses he has shared with Sadie something he hadn't with Marianne. He applied for an MFA in creative writing at a New York university. Upon Marianne's return from the shower, Connell reads an acceptance email from the university. Unsure of his next move, Connell contemplates if he should leave Marianne behind for this opportunity. Despite his hesitation, Marianne urges him to go, reassuring him that she will always be there for him, even if he decides to break away.

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