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Normal People by Sally Rooney Read Online (FREE)

 

Three Months Later (NOVEMBER 2011)

Connell doesn’t know anyone at the party. The person who invited him isn’t the same person who answered the door and, with an indifferent shrug, let him inside. He still hasn’t seen the person who invited him, a person called Gareth, who’s in his Critical Theory seminar. Connell knew going to a party on his own would be a bad idea, but on the phone Lorraine said it would be a good idea. I won’t know anyone, he told her. And she said patiently: You won’t get to know anyone if you don’t go out and meet people. Now he’s here, standing on his own in a crowded room not knowing whether to take his jacket off. It feels practically scandalous to be lingering here in solitude. He feels as if everyone around him is disturbed by his presence, and trying not to stare.

Finally, just as he decides to leave, Gareth comes in. Connell’s intense relief at seeing Gareth triggers another wave of self-loathing, since he doesn’t even know Gareth very well or particularly like him. Gareth puts his hand out and desperately, bizarrely, Connell finds himself shaking it. It’s a low moment in his adult life. People are watching them shake hands, Connell is certain of this. Good to see you, man, says Gareth. Good to see you. I like the backpack, very nineties. Connell is wearing a completely plain navy backpack with no features to distinguish it from any of the other numerous backpacks at the party.

Uh, he says. Yeah, thanks.

Gareth is one of these popular people who’s involved in college societies. He went to one of the big private schools in Dublin and people are always greeting him on campus, like: Hey, Gareth! Gareth, hey! They’ll greet him from all the way across Front Square, just to get him to wave hello. Connell has seen it. People used to like me, he feels like saying as a joke. I used to be on my school football team. No one would laugh at that joke here.

Can I get you a drink? says Gareth.

Connell has a six-pack of cider with him, but he’s reluctant to do anything that would draw attention to his backpack, in case Gareth might feel prompted to comment on it further. Cheers, he says. Gareth navigates over to the table at the side of the room and returns with a bottle of Corona. This okay? says Gareth. Connell looks at him for a second, wondering if the question is ironic or genuinely servile. Unable to decide, Connell says: Yeah, it’ll do, thanks. People in college are like this, unpleasantly smug one minute and then abasing themselves to show off their good manners the next. He sips the beer while Gareth watches him. Without any apparent sarcasm Gareth grins and says: Enjoy.

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.