Normal People by Sally Rooney Read Online (FREE)
Why are you acting like this? he says.
Get away from me. Don’t ever talk to me like that again.
Like what? What did I say?
She takes her bra from the mattress, crumples it in her hand and walks across the room to thrust it down into her handbag. She starts to pull her boots on, hopping stupidly on one foot.
Marianne, he says. What have I done?
Are you being serious or is this some kind of artistic technique?
All of life is an artistic technique.
She stares at him. Improbably, he follows this remark up with: I think you are a very gifted writer. She laughs, out of horror.
You don’t feel the same way for me, he says.
I want to be very clear, she says. I feel nothing for you. Nothing. Okay?
He returns to his camera, back turned to her, as if to disguise some expression. Malicious laughter at her distress? she thinks. Rage? He could not, it’s too appalling to consider, actually have hurt feelings? He starts to remove the device from the tripod. She opens the door of the apartment and makes her way down the staircase. Could he really do the gruesome things he does to her and believe at the same time that he’s acting out of love? Is the world such an evil place, that love should be indistinguishable from the basest and most abusive forms of violence? Outside her breath rises in a fine mist and the snow keeps falling, like a ceaseless repetition of the same infinitesimally small mistake.
Three Months Later (MARCH 2014)
In the waiting room he has to fill out a questionnaire. The seats are brightly coloured, arranged around a coffee table with a children’s abacus toy on it. The coffee table is much too low for him to lean forward and fill out the pages on its surface, so he arranges them awkwardly in his lap instead. On the very first question he pierces the page with his ballpoint pen and leaves a tiny tear in the paper. He looks up at the receptionist who provided him with the form but she’s not watching, so he looks back down again. The second question is headed ‘Pessimism’. He has to circle the number beside one of the following statements:
0 I am not discouraged about my future
1 I feel more discouraged about my future than I used to be
2 I do not expect things to work out for me
3 I feel my future is hopeless and will only get worse
It seems to him that any of these statements could plausibly be true, or more than one of them could be true at the same time. He puts the end of his pen between his teeth. Reading the fourth sentence, which for some reason is labelled ‘3’, gives Connell a prickling feeling inside the soft tissue of his nose, like the sentence is calling out to him. It’s true, he feels his future is hopeless and will only get worse. The more he thinks about it, the more it resonates. He doesn’t even have to think about it, because he feels it: its syntax seems to have originated inside him. He rubs his tongue hard on the roof of his mouth, trying to settle his face into a neutral frown of concentration. Not wanting to alarm the woman who will receive the questionnaire, he circles statement 2 instead.