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If you are fascinated by the bed-hopping habits of students then this is the book you have been waiting for!

Connell and Marianne are from Carricklea, a fictional town in Sligo (not the fashionable end of Ireland). Marianne lives in the big house with her mother. At school, she is ostracised for being weird – perhaps because she is rich, perhaps because her father is dead. Perhaps because she is clever. 

Connell is from the regular side of town. His father is also gone; his mother Lorraine works for Marianne’s mother as a cleaner. Connell is also clever, but he seems to have kept this hidden from his friends. Connell is popular and able to get dates with pretty much anyone he wants – even the most popular girl in school. 

Connell and Marianne have a clandestine relationship that Connell tries to deny is actually a relationship, and Marianne seems to be grateful for any company she can get, regardless of the terms. 

Each chapter moves the clock forward by a few weeks or a few months and the pair disappear off to Dublin to go to university. Dublin’s a different place altogether and Marianne’s wealth and intelligence bring ready acceptance into the beautiful people. Connell, meanwhile, is the poor bogtrotter who struggles to find his niche.

Then, like a Russian novel, these two friends drift in and out of one another’s lives and in and out of one another’s beds. In between their brief periods of togetherness, we tick off heaps of social issues that are of great importance to undergraduates: academic pressure; prizes and scholarships; abusive older boyfriends; parties; finding the next drink…

I suppose the theme of the novel is about social class and power imbalances. How in youth, fitting in is about reaching downwards whereas in adulthood it is about aspirations and reaching upwards. It’s like Bill Gates used to say: be nice to nerds because one day you’ll work for them. And associated with class, you have the urban/rural divide with the Dublin Jackeens ruling the roost, only admitting those from the big houses into their midst. But at the same time, there is a hollowness to this belonging. The sacrifices you have to make to your integrity as you adapt to fit in will ultimately lead to hollow feelings. 

This is a novel that could happily have been written twenty, thirty years ago. Things don’t change. But people do – and a novel that might have seemed wonderful and insightful in my own youth now looks trivial. Student relationships were only ever interesting if you were in them. You always remember your first love, but then life happens. And life is more interesting. 

 

***00

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  • 7 months later...

This book has been a huge publishing sensation, with people apparently buying several  copies at once, if you believe the papers. I couldn't get on with her debut, Conversations With Friends, but the premise of this appealed a bit more and when I saw it in the supermarket for a few pounds, it somehow leapt into my basket, despite my best efforts not to fall for the hype.

 

Some of the writing grates: she has a habit of describing very ordinary events in great amounts of flat detail, and that doesn't appeal to me, though maybe it serves a purpose that eludes me. But I could relate to the characters, and that's what kept me reading. Marianne and Connell have an on-off relationship which ensures through their teenage years and early adulthood. Marianne has poor self esteem, for reasons which are never quite spelled out, but seem to relate to her shadowy dysfunctional family, so she accepts and even enjoys the fact that Connell, initially, seems embarrassed by their relationship and ignores her in public. Their behaviour was frustrating but I thought it was full of the complexities of real relationships which don't always go through the traditional trajectory of the romantic novel. It was full of misunderstandings and near misses, and the characters often say one thing while hoping that the other realises that they mean something different. 

It's set in the early years of this decade, but it's quite timeless, really, whereas her first novel seemed much more rooted in the millennial experience. I'm not a millennial, but I reckon my teenage and early adult years had a lot in common with these two, in terms of the emotions if not the events.

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Where to begin. In terms of the writing it was an enjoyable read but my, the hype was not justified. At the very minimum I expect a book to be an enjoyable read. 

 

Truth be told this was a Mills and Boon romance novel for the contemporary age. Every time a book like this wins awards and gets praise, I come to the conclusion that modern books are written for the growing demographic of people who... don't like reading books. Firstly, there's nothing remotely 'normal' about these two characters. I'll skip over the predictably dream-like otherness of Marianne and focus on the utterly non-existent Connell. I'm sorry ladies, but that guy (calm, thoughtful, caring, emotionally mature, intellectually honest, culturally sensitive etc) only exists in the heads of women -- women writers in particular. Connell isn't just these things by the end of the book. No, he's these things from the very start, as a teenager. You know, like most teenage boys are.

 

These two people are highly popular, good looking, the smartest in school, having regular sex, and are apparently off to university where they'll be going travelling around Europe and becoming writers. Normal people, you say? F*** off. 

 

I was genuinely quite irritated but this book. It's everything I hate in fiction. I was half-expecting a final chapter to reveal that Marianne was sexually assaulted as a child (perhaps by her father, maybe even by her cartoonishly evil, moustache twirling brother) but thankfully, that didn't happen. I was also slightly offended by the implication that women (or men, for that matter) who enjoy rough sex have some kind of underlying mental health problem. I did, however, like the ending. These two millennial idiots can't seem to communicate their feelings. Even at the end she tells him to go to New York. I do wonder what point Rooney was making though. It's not as if her generation are emotionally closed off. If anything they're more prone to expressing their feelings than any other generation. Maybe she was criticising that - modern people sleep with everyone without consequences but... gulp... maybe there are consequences. Sigh.

 

I honestly couldn't tell if the book's title was ironic or if it was a clever twist on those awful romance novels (what if, instead of a pirate and a curvy wench, it was a saucy romance between two... normal people). Geddit?

 

This is an airport book. Stop celebrating this kind of crap. Go read the Leopard. 

 

EDIT - had I read this book without all the hype, I might... I might have been more willing to forgive its many flaws. 

 

Edited by hux
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I get it when a book gets loads of plaudits, your guard goes up and expectations are raised. Many books I've abandoned despite the praises of serious papers and authors I admire,.

This one I felt lived up to the hype and still think about. Maybe its a generational thing and like music you just don;t identify with it. A book for the millennium crowd  and for me twanged a lot of emotional strings and memories. I think she writes beautifully and in one short book showed the clash of sex, class , family  and friends in a refreshing way.

Hey it would be a boring world if we all liked the same books. Just bought The Leopard fingers crossed with all the hype 😀

Edited by Clavain
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  • 1 month later...

This was definitely the dullest book I read last year, so god knows what made me watch the recent tv series of it.  That was equally dull although, at the risk of sounding like some old perv,  it was quite refreshing to see full frontal male nudity on the telly.😀

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9 hours ago, Squirls said:

This was definitely the dullest book I read last year, so god knows what made me watch the recent tv series of it.  That was equally dull although, at the risk of sounding like some old perv,  it was quite refreshing to see full frontal male nudity on the telly.😀

 

Yay - welcome back Squirls!!!

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