Sally Rooney’s love story about how one person can change another’s life - a simple yet profound realisation that unfolds beautifully.

In school, Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. People know that Marianne lives in the white mansion with the driveway and that Connell’s mother is a cleaner, but no one knows of the special relationship between these facts. Despite these social tangles, a connection grows between them and when they both get places to study at Trinity College in Dublin it lasts long into the following years.

The Man Booker Prize 2018
Published by
Faber & Faber
Publication date

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Sally Rooney

Sally Rooney

About the Author

Sally Rooney’s second novel, which grew out of characters in her 2016 short story 'At the Clinic', led to a slew of award nominations and the sobriquet 'the voice of her generation'.
More about Sally Rooney

Sally Rooney interview

Sally Rooney was the youngest author longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2018, and shortly after her nomination spoke to the prize about Normal People and what inspires her work. 

When did you start writing? 
I can’t remember a time before I could read or write. I think in one way or another I have been writing since before I can remember. 

Normal People shows how a person can change another person’s life – what inspired this idea? 
I only came to articulate that idea very late in the writing process, and it was quite a revelation to me. I certainly did not set out to write a novel illustrating that point, but the novel seems to have taken shape around it anyway. I’m still not sure what drew me to the idea, or why I find it so compelling.   

Favourite Booker-winning novel? 
I’m afraid I have read relatively few Booker winning novels. I read Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin a few years ago and liked it very much. 

What authors have inspired you and your work? 
I think whether I like it or not I’m influenced by everything I read—by books I admire, but also books I don’t admire, and also text messages, emails, tweets… 

What are you working on next? 
I’m going to try and write a novel about beauty. 

Sally Rooney looking at the camera.

The origins of Normal People

Normal People didn’t begin life as a novel – the characters of Marianne and Connell actually first appeared in a much briefer form of writing.

Sally Rooney brought Marianne and Connell, her protagonists from Normal People, to life in a series of short stories.

One of those stories, At the Clinic, was published in The White Review in 2016, and follows Marianne and Connell as 23-year-olds, as they go to dental clinic so Marianne can have a wisdom tooth removed. 

Speaking about the short stories at an event at Waterstones, Rooney said: ‘There was this implication that their relationship was coloured by some experiences in their early adulthood but it wasn’t really made explicit, and the more that I returned to those characters when they were in their 20s, around my age, the more I felt like that texture of how their relationship had originated interested me, and almost became the sort of overwhelming interest that I had, so I thought “why not go back to the beginning and see if I can make it work?”’ 

Read At the Clinic at The White Review

 Anatomical cross-section of a head

A very intimate character study of two young people trying to figure out how to love each other, Normal People is written in compressed, composed, allusive prose that invites you read behind the lines

— Booker Prize 2018 judges

Sally Rooney on Normal People

In 2018, Sally Rooney spoke to Octavia Bright, co-host of the Literary Friction podcast, at Waterstones about Normal People, when she stopped using quotation marks and the meaning of normal.

Waterstones · Sally Rooney in conversation – Normal People
Sally Rooney

Designing Normal People

South Korean artist Henn Kim talks to us about the iconic illustration that graces the jacket of Normal People.

The jacket of Normal People shows two figures curled up around each other in a sardine tin, the lid of which is peeled back slightly. 

The illustration was part of a collection of work South Korean artist Henn Kim had put together, and was spotted by Faber and Rooney, who approached Kim to see if they could use it for Normal People

Kim came up with the drawing after watching Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express, a film with two narratives, each about a Hong Kong policeman thinking over a relationship with a woman.

The film, Kim tells us, led her to mull ‘over the concept of expiration in love’. 

‘I came to the conclusion that emotions have deadlines,’ she continued. ‘Love, anger, joy and sadness all dilute with time. Among those, love especially is the desire to keep something imperishable for as long as possible.’ 

Even though Kim didn’t draw the illustration specifically for Normal People, she sees a connection between her work and Rooney’s. ‘After reading the book and watching the TV show, I wholly understand why Sally and Faber chose this particular piece,’ she says. ‘Though created at separate moments, I think that our works were able to intersect at the same crossroads.’

Sarah Shaffi

Black and white photo of Henn Kim sitting on a chair looking pensieve.

Normal People on screen

The BBC and Hulu adaptation of Normal People took Rooney’s book to new audiences.

Starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal in the roles of Marianne and Connell, the adaptation of Normal People aired in 2020. The Independent called it ‘a beautiful, pitch-perfect adaptation that captures all the intensity and longing of the novel’.

Watch Normal People on BBC iPlayer here

Still from Normal People of Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal facing each other.