“Du er nødt til at se det her!” råber jeg ind i arbejdsværelset til min kone efter ca. 10 minutter af The End of the F***ing World. I går aftes udspiller scenen sig igen, da jeg har streamet de første to episoder af Normal People fra DR’s hjemmeside. Historien om den forpinte kærlighed mellem Marianne og Connell er baseret på irske Sally Rooneys roman med samme titel.
Sally Rooney debuterede i 2017 med romanen Conversations with Friends og fulgte året efter op med Normal People. 29-årige Rooney er allerede udråbt som “the voice of a generation” og har modtaget et hav af litterære priser. Den slags universel hyldest til en ung forfatter må man nok altid tage med en sund portion kritisk distance, men Rooneys karakterer rammer tydeligvis noget i tidsånden. Du kan finde en ret fin introduktion til forfatterskabet, værker og temaer på forfatterweb.
Det er en klassisk historie Rooney fortæller i Normal People. Overklassepigen Marianne møder arbejderdrengen Connell og indleder et hemmeligt forhold på tværs af klasseskel. Begge er intelligente og belæste, men hvor den fåmælte Connell er populær og god til sport, sidder Marianne mest for sig selv og behandler sine skolekammerater med aggressiv foragt. Historien følger de to unges on-again-off-again forhold fra gymnasiet i lillebyen Sligo på Irlands vestkyst til tiden på Trinity College i Dublin.
Adaptationen af Normal People er ekstremt tekstnær og lægger derfor op til samme form for crisscross værklæsning, som jeg plejer at lave med Jane Austens Pride and Prejudice. Her har jeg f.eks. udvalgt scenen, hvor Connell og Marianne kysser hinanden for første gang. Teksteksemplet løber med vilje lidt længere end klippet fra TV-serien. Scenen fortælles i tredje person fra Mariannes point of view. Sproget i Rooneys roman er ret sparsomt og historien fortælles med få armbevægelser. Læg dog mærke til nuanceringen i sproget, som bliver mere sansemættet efterhånden som Marianne gradvist absorberer indtrykket af kysset.
He followed her into the study last week while she was looking for a copy of The Fire Next Time to lend him. He stood there inspecting til bookshelves, with his top shirt button undone and school tie loosened. She found the book and handed it to him, and he sat down on the window seat looking at the back cover. She sat beside him and asked him if his friends Eric and Rob knew that he read so much outside school.
They wouldn’t be interested in that stuff, he said.
You mean they’re not interested in the world around them.
Connell made the face he always made when she criticised his friends, an inexpressive frown. Not in the same way, he said. They have their own interests. I don’t think they’d be reading books about racism and all that.
Right, they’re too busy bragging about who they’re having sex with, she said.
He paused for at second, like his ears had pricked up at this remark but he didn’t know exactly how to respond. Yeah, they do a bit of that, he said. I’m not defending it, I know they can be annoying.
Doesn’t it bother you?
He paused again. Most of it wouldn’t, he said. They do some stuff that goes a bit over the line and that would annoy me obviously. But at the end of the day they’re my friends, you know. It’s different for you.
She looked at him, but he was examining the spine of the book.
Why is it different? she said.
He shrugged, bending the book cover back and forth. She felt frustrated. Her face and hands were hot. He kept on looking at the book although he’d certainly read all the text on the back by then. She was attuned to the presence of his body in a microscopic way, as if the ordinary motin of his breathing was powerful enough to make her ill.
You know you were saying the other day that you like me, he said. In the kitchen you said it, when we were talking about school.
Did you mean like as a friend, or what?
She stared down into her lap. She was wearing a corduroy skirt and in the light from the window she could see it was flecked with pieces of lint.
No, not just as a friend, she said.
Oh, okay. I was wondering.
I’m kind of confused about what I feel, he added. I think it would be awkward in school of anything happened with us.
No one would have to know.
He looked at her, directly, with total attention. She knew he was going to kiss her, and he did. His lips were soft. His tongue moved into her mouth slightly. Then it was over and he was drawing away. He seemed to remember he was holding the book, and began to look at it again.
That was nice, she said.
He nodded, swallowed, glanced down at the book once more. His attitude was so sheepish, as if it had been rude of her even to make reference to the kiss, that Marianne started to laugh. He looked flustered then.
Alright, he said. What are you laughing for?
You’re acting like you’ve never kissed anyone before.
Well, I haven’t, she said.
He put his hand over his face. She laughed again, she couldn’t stop herself, and then he was laughing too. His ears were very red and he was shaking his head. After a few seconds he stood up, holding the book in his hand.
Don’t go telling people in school about this, okay? he said.
Like I would talk to anyone in school.
He left the room. Weakly she crumpled off the seat, down onto the floor, with her legs stretched out in front of her like a rag doll. Whe she sat there she felt as if Connell had been visiting her house only to test her, and she had passed the test, and the kiss was a communication that said: You passed. She thought of the way he’d laughed when she said she’d never kissed anyone before. For another person to laught that way might have been cruel, but it wasn’t like that with him. They’d been laughing together, at a shared situation they’d found themselves in, though how to describe the situation or what was funny about it Marianne didn’t know exactly.
The next morning before German class she sat watching her classmates shove each other off the storage heaters, shrieking and giggling. When the lesson began they listened quietly to an audio tape of a German woman speaking about a party she had missed. Es tut mir sehr leid. In the afternoon it started snowing, thick grey flakes that fluttered past the windows and melted on the gravel.
Everything looked and felt sensuous: the stale smell of classrooms, the tinny intercom bell that sounded between lessons, the dark austere trees that stood like apparitions around the basketball court. The slow routine work of copying out notes in different-coloured pens on fresh blue-and-white lined paper. Connell, as usual, did not speak to Marianne in school or even look at her. She watched him across the classrooms as he conjugated verbs, chewing on the end of his pen. On the other side of the cafeteria at lunchtime, smiling about something with his friends. Their secret weighed inside her body pleasurably, pressing down on her pelvic bone when she moved.Sally Rooney, Normal People (2018)
Receptionsanalyse og kritiske stemmer
Som sagt bliver jeg altid skeptisk, når forfattere hyldes som talerør for en hel generation. Sally Rooneys værk er naturligvis også blevet mødt med kritik. Nogle kritikere hæfter sig ved en tendens til at romantisere teenage angst og accept af klassiske kønsroller. Andre hæfter sig ved, at Rooneys historie er så stereotyp at den ikke løfter sig væsentligt over den klassiske romantiske komedie og ikke tilføjer noget nyt til Romeo+Juliet-motivet. Eller at Rooney som er erklæret marxist skriver fra en priviligeret position på en brødflov klassebevidsthed.
Hvis man skulle have lyst til at bruge Normal People til værklæsning, tænker jeg det kunne være relevant at inddrage anmeldelser og litterære diskussioner at romanen i en receptionsanalyse. Derfor har jeg samlet en del relevant sekundærmateriale.
1: London Review i samtale med Sally Rooney
2: Normal People by Sally Rooney review – a future classic
Anmeldelse i The Guardian: A superb evocation of a couple at Trinity College Dublin who show what it is to be young and in love.
3: Sally Rooney on sex, power and the art of being normal
The New Statesman interview med Sally Rooney: The 27-year-old Booker-nominated author, hailed as the voice of millennial fiction, discusses the success of her second novel, Normal People.
4: Normal People is little more than a gutless soap opera for millennials
Kronik i the Guardian: Here we have a young woman, smart and beautiful, but emotionally distant because she is a product of the cold, aristocratic upper classes. But she’s different, you know? We know this because she does things like look out of windows, daydreaming, which regular people would never dare to do.
5: The Quintessential millennial novel? Normal People by Sally Rooney fails to live up to the hype
Anmeldelse fra Extra.ie: With two incredibly successful novels under her belt, both of which will be adapted as television series, as well as various short stories, Sally Rooney has been cited as one of the leading lights of the next generation of Irish writers.
6: It is time to take a sharp inhale, people. Sally Rooney’s Normal People is superb
Anmeldelse fra the Irish Times: Lord be with the days when the job of the critic, especially the Irish critic, was to reassure everyone that a recently successful writer was no good, which is to say not as good as Proust. It is time to take a sharp inhale, people.