Normal People, Sally Rooney
"I don't know what's wrong with me, says Marianne. I don't know why I can't be like normal people."
"He stares at the webpage again. Lately he's consumed by a sense that he is in fact two separate people, and soon he will have to choose which person to be on a full-time basis, and leave the other person behind. He has a life in Carricklea, he has friends. If he went to college in Galway he could stay with the same social group, really, and live the life he has always planned on, getting a good degree, having a nice girlfriend. People would say he had done well for himself. On the other hand, he could go to Trinity like Marianne. Life would be different then. He would start going to dinner parties and having conversations about the Greek bailout. He could fuck some weird-looking girls who turn out to be bisexual. I've read The Golden Notebook, he could tell them. It's true, he has read it. After that he would never come back to Carricklea, he would go somewhere else, London, or Barcelona. People would not necessarily think he had done well; some people might think he had gone very bad, while others would forget about him entirely. What would Lorraine think? She would want him to be happy, and not care what others said. But the old Connell, the one all his friends know: that person would be dead in a way, or worse, buried alive, and screaming under the earth."
"She has never believed herself fit to be loved by any person. But now she has a new life, of which this is the first moment, and even after many years have passed she will still think: Yes, that was it, the beginning of my life."
"This is what it's like in Dublin. All Connell's classmates have identical accents and carry the same size MacBook under their arms. In seminars they express their opinions passionately and conduct impromptu debates. Unable to form such straightforward views or express them with any force, Connell initially felt a sense of crushing inferiority to his fellow students, as if he had upgraded himself accidentally to an intellectual level far above his own, where he had to strain to make sense of the most basic premises. He did gradually start to wonder why all their classroom discussions were so abstract and lacking in textual detail, and eventually he realised that most people were not actually doing the reading. They were coming into college every day to have heated debates about books they had not read. He understands now that his classmates are not like him. It's easy for them to have opinions, and to express them with confidence. They don't worry about appearing ignorant or conceited. They are not stupid people, but they're not so much smarter than him either. They just move through the world in a different way, and he'll probably never really understand them, and he knows they will never understand him, or even try."
"It was in Connell's power to make her happy. It was something he could just give to her, like money or sex. With other people she seemed so independent and remote, but with Connell she was different, a different person. He was the only one who knew her like that."
"Helen arrived then. He only noticed her when she called out to him. She was wearing her leggings and trainers, gym bag slung over one shoulder, a damp sheen on her forehead visible under the street light. He felt a vast rush of love for her, love and compassion, almost sympathy. He knew that he belonged with her. What they had together was normal, a good relationship. The life they were living was the right life. He took the bag off her shoulder and lifted a hand to wave Marianne goodbye. She didn't wave back, she just nodded. Have fun! Helen said. Then they went to get the bus. He was sad for Marianne after that, sad that nothing in her life had ever truly seemed healthy, and sad that he'd had to turn away from her."
"One of his lecturers gave a short and sycophantic overview of the writer's work, and then the man himself, a youngish guy around thirty, stood at the lectern and thanked the college for the invitation. By then Connell regretted his decision to attend. Everything about the event was staid and formulaic, sapped of energy. He didn't know why he had come. He had read the writer's collection and found it uneven, but sensitive in places, perspective. Now, he thought, even that effect was spoiled by seeing the writer in this environment, hemmed off from anything spontaneous, reciting aloud from his own book to an audience who'd already read it. The stiffness of this performance made the observations in the book seem false, separating the writer from the people he wrote about, as if he'd observed them only for the benefit of talking about them to Trinity students. Connell couldn't think of any reason why these literary events took place, what they contributed to anything, what they meant. They were attended only by people who wanted to be the kind of people who attended them."
"It has something to do with their history, he knows that. Ever since school he has understood his power over her. How she responds to his look or the touch of his hand. The way her fact colours, and she goes still as if awaiting some spoken order. His effortless tyranny over someone who seems, to other people, so invulnerable. He has never been able to reconcile himself to the idea of losing this hold over her, like a key to an empty property, left available for future use. In fact he has cultivated it, and he knows he has."
"She closes her eyes. He probably won't come back, she thinks. Or he will, differently. What they have now they can never have back again. But for her the pain of loneliness will be nothing to the pain that she used to feel, of being unworthy. He brought her goodness like a gift and now it belongs to her. Meanwhile his life opens out before him in all directions at once. They've done a lot of good for each other. Really, she thinks, really. People can really change one another."