Ever felt as though you were the only person who can see while everyone around you is blind? The designated driver, while elsewhere bodies and minds fade into a state of blissful, alcohol-induced-oblivion? That’s how I feel about Sally Rooney.
The Irish novelist has been lauded as the purveyor of millennial anxiety and detachment — the voice of our generation. The reverence and veneration allotted to her two novels – Conversations with Friends and Normal People – is almost unprecedented.
It’s also left me feeling fairly confused.
The monolithic praise has put into question my taste, my intellect, my sanity. And I’m sure I’ll be just as confused about the hype that will surround her forthcoming novel, Beautiful World, Where Are You, which will be released on September 7.
The mainstream adoration of Rooney and her novels has a distinct impenetrability to it. You can’t criticise it, lest you be accused of blasphemy. Loving Rooney’s novels is akin to loving indoor plants: you’re a bit of a monster if you don’t have them in your home.
You’re supposed to like her books. It’s tasteful — a cultural signifier. Yet, her stories merely celebrate privileged white people doing privileged white things including going to elite colleges, voluntarily sleeping with bad men, having hang-ups about those bad men, and, if you’re a woman, asking to be hit by them during sex (and making that seem cool, or “grown-up”). Her female characters are depressed, starving, diligently maintaining extremely thin bodies, but oh, they’re also neurotic geniuses.
The monolithic praise and critical consensus have left me in a perpetually alienated state of horrified disbelief. Am I the only person on this planet who finds the story of two white teenagers and their annoying love lives utterly self-indulgent and boring?
Normal People is about two white, able-bodied, beautiful straight people mulling about how hard it is to be white, able-bodied and straight. The girl is a loner who lives in a big house and feels unloved. The worst thing that has ever happened to her is that the boy she likes didn’t ask her to her school’s debutantes ball. The boy suffers from anxiety and doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up. He’s a misunderstood footballer whose mother is a cleaner (wow, am I supposed to feel sorry for you?) but hey, “His body is so big and gentle, like a Labrador”. Rooney must know we all love labs.