Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publication Date: August 2018
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At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school soccer team while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her housekeeping job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers—one they are determined to conceal.
A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. 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.
This book is one I had been meaning to pick up for the longest time. It had been recommended to me by everyone and the BBC making a TV show of it definitely pushed me over the edge to picking it up.
I was so glad that I did.
If I had to describe this book in one word: raw.
This book is just so extremely raw - emotionally, physically and in writing style.
Relationships really drive this novel from its core. Whether from the characters relationships with themselves and with each other. The characters grow over the course of the novel in many directions. The novel takes place over many years from Connell and Marianne being in secondary school to going to college to their adulthood. This long journey of the novel really gives the reader a more complete and long view of their lives.
One of my favourite characters in the novel was Connell's mum. Connell and his mother have such a loving and caring relationship. His family is working class and his mother is actually the cleaner for Marianne's family. Connell's mum is so straight-talking, opinionated, unapologetic, caring ad warm. She is one of the best mother characters I've read in a book ever. Connells mum calls him out on his bad behavior, praises him, looks out for Marianne and shows her real maternal love which she had never experienced. Their relationship is so beautiful and well written.
Marianne and Connell's relationship is the centre-point of the entire novel. We see them begin their relationship when in school. They begin having sex in secret as Connell is ashamed of Marianne as he is popular at school and she is described as the "weird girl" and has no friends. Their relationship in secret then breaks off as they go to college. Throughout the novel they drift apart and find each other many times, always an ebb and flow of their energy's.
Their relationship is extremely raw and emotional. They let their true feeling be shown to each other and become truly naked showing themselves. The progression of the novel showing their characters emotons growing and changing throughout the novel was extremely personal to read about. I almost felt as if I was intruding on them.
Marianne and her family was such an uncomfortable, sad and emotional aspect to the novel. Marianne's family is cold, hurtful, abusive and vile. The first time Marianne hints at this, she reveals to Connel while they are in bed that her father used to hit her. As the story progresses we see more into Marianne's fammily life. Her brother Alan is extremely emotionally and physically abusive towards her while her mother watches and allows it to happen. Marianne's mother is cold, allows Marianne to be abused by her brother because she "deserves it" and constantly puts Marianne down. The abusive and cold family home Marianne comes from deeply affects her life, how she views herself and her relationships with men throughout her life.
Marianne's relationships with men is so damaged by the abuse she has suffered. We see this in all her relationships from Connell to Jamie and Lukas. Marianne views herself as nothing, insignificant, cold and pathetic as a result of the emotional abuse she has suffered. She feels empty, and therefore allows men to take control of her and hurt her because she feels deserves it as that is what she has become conditioned to feel. The growth of Marianne from this feeling to searching for her own happiness and her own life without the toxic feelings from her family was beautiful to read.
Connell's own personal internal journey was also fantastic to read about. In the beginning of the novel we see him as this popular boy in secondary school who everyone wants to be friends with, until he goes to college and finds himself on the outside of every social group and essentially without friends. This swapping of places with Marianne, who is now thriving in Dublin is hard or him. We also see his mental health journey and his own internal journey as he discovers himself, what he wants from his life and how he can make his own happiness with himself.
Beautiful progression of human emotion from all of the character in this novel which rads as extremely personal and raw to the reader.
The theme of socio-economic class divides in Ireland was also very well written. Marianne is from a rich family, and her higher economic level is truly cemented in the scene when Connell mentions their difference, as he is poor, and she said she has never noticed. Connell is rightly struck by this, and slightly hurt, as she is so privileged she doesn't even recognize the difference in their positions.
As someone from Sligo, I absolutely loved the descriptions of places, from Skreen to Riverstown and all the other little mentions that struck me about my hometown. It made me feel so much love for the place I call home.
The ending of the novel was something that stuck for me as I really didn't enjoy it. I just wanted something a little more and felt the brisk ending dampened the final couple of scenes for me as I felt the story of these characters needed a more rounded ending.
The overall visceral, raw, emotional tone of the novel is one that struck me to my core. I was moved by each chapter truly and was thinking about the novel long after turning the final page. The novel does strike you with an aching melancholy and sadness that truly portrays the novels theme of constantly striving for something but never quite getting what you want.
Will definitely be recommending this, and reading it again in the future. *Actual Rating 4.5 stars*