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24.01.2019

Love in the Time of Snapchat | Connecting with Culture

Sally Rooney’s award-winning Normal People is being hailed as the publishing phenomenon of the decade.

Rooney has been dubbed ‘Salinger for the Snapchat generation’. Her latest book is striking for its cynical and dispassionate account of modern life. In cool, spare prose, Normal People offers a window into the minds of the much-mocked ‘millennials’.

Rooney’s characters are over-educated, highly self-aware twenty-somethings. They are not always likeable; by her own self-deprecating admission, Rooney’s novels are ‘just stories about fake people’. The characters teeter between smooth self-assurance and cripplingly low self-esteem as they attempt to inhabit the facades they believe the world expects.

Despite the power with which Rooney’s characters experience both physical and emotional pain, their social identities are so artfully constructed they sometimes feel themselves becoming untethered from reality. In Normal People, Rooney writes of her main character: ‘Marianne had the sense that her real life was happening somewhere very far away, happening without her, and she didn’t know if she would ever find out where it was or become part of it.’

Alongside forensic examination of the characters’ emotional lives, the novel reflects on the power dynamics between couples, friends, and social groups. Whilst the central relationships are complex and fraught, they are nonetheless the one thing that seems ultimately to offer true value.

The closest any character comes to recognising this is in a resigned, almost flippant revelation: ‘No one can be independent of other people completely, so why not give up the attempt, she thought, go running in the other direction, depend on people for everything, allow them to depend on you, why not.’

Is this really the best – the only – consolation on offer? The problem, as Rooney put it in one interview, is that our society has no better way to navigate the pain and confusion of modern life: ‘How do people console themselves through periods of immense suffering? Capitalism doesn’t really have an answer.’

As Christians we may feel that we do have an answer. However, if Rooney’s novel shows us anything, it’s that millennials are not a problem to be solved. They are individuals, each in desperate need of meaning, purpose, connection, certainty, love. They are, in short, exactly what her title promises: normal people.

If we are to share our good news with them, we must do so with integrity, humility, and empathy, acknowledging our own struggles. After all, Christians are normal people too.

Rachel Smith
Rachel works in marketing and attends King’s Church Durham.

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Author

Rachel Smith

Comments

  1. Very helpful material

    By Jean Bowring - 25th January 2019
  2. Thanks for flagging up this book – it’s one to add to our book club list for 2019!

    By Helen Belcher - 25th January 2019
  3. Meaning, purpose, connection, love and other things too are needed and possible. But certainty in this world and life is not possible; anything can happen at any moment and sweep away what we thought of as our certainties. Faith and assurance are needed and possible but they are not certainties.

    By Jean Watson - 25th January 2019
  4. Thanks Rachel. I’d heard about this book, and you give some great insights about what makes it tick, and pointers to a Christian response. You know what I’m interested in doing? Some writing that with a similar kind of insight portrays with raw honesty what it’s like to live with faith, in a culture that at large has lost interest…

    By Bruce Gulland - 25th January 2019
  5. Brava Rachel. Much appreciate your astute review. Interestingly, I didn’t find it at all cynical but warmly hopeful about the capacity of romantic relationships to heal, enable, empower the other person to do what they would perhaps not have been able to do had they not met. Indeed, the novel suggests that there is far more to life than even a romantic relationship where the emotional intimacy and the sexual compatibility are amazing – there is something that we are made to do. And being known and deeply loved is the power that enables us to do it.

    By Mark Greene - 25th January 2019

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