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Normal People by Sally Rooney Read Online (FREE)

In a voice just false enough to sound nearly sincere, Marianne says: Oh. I’m sorry.

*

 

After Marianne left school in April, Connell entered a period of low spirits. Teachers spoke to him about it. The guidance counsellor told Lorraine she was ‘concerned’. People in school were probably talking about it too, he didn’t know. He couldn’t summon up the energy to act normal. At lunch he sat in the same place as always, eating sad mouthfuls of food, not listening to his friends when they spoke. Sometimes he wouldn’t notice even when they called his name, and they would have to throw something at him or clip him on the head to get his attention. Everyone must have known there was something wrong with him. He felt a debilitating shame about the kind of person he’d turned out to be, and he missed the way Marianne had made him feel, and he missed her company. He called her phone all the time, he sent her text messages every day, but she never replied. His mother said he was barred from visiting her house, though he didn’t think he would have tried that anyway.

For a while he tried to get over it by drinking too much and having anxious, upsetting sex with other girls. At a house party in May he slept with Barry Kenny’s sister Sinead, who was twenty-three and had a degree in Speech and Language Therapy. Afterwards he felt so bad he threw up, and he had to tell Sinead he was drunk even though he wasn’t really. There was no one he could talk to about that. He was excruciatingly lonely. He had recurring dreams about being with Marianne again, holding her peacefully the way he used to when they were tired, and speaking with her in low voices. Then he’d remember what had happened, and wake up feeling so depressed he couldn’t move a single muscle in his body.

One night in June he came home drunk and asked Lorraine if she saw Marianne much at work.

Sometimes, said Lorraine. Why?

And is she alright, or what?

I’ve already told you I think she’s upset.

She won’t reply to any of my texts or anything, he said. When I call her, like if she sees it’s me, she won’t pick up.

Because you hurt her feelings.

Yeah, but it’s kind of overreacting, isn’t it?

Lorraine shrugged and looked back at the TV.

Do you think it is? he said.

Do I think what?

Do you think it’s overreacting, what she’s doing?

Lorraine kept looking straight at the TV. Connell was drunk, he doesn’t remember what she was watching. Slowly she said: You know, Marianne is a very vulnerable person. And you did something very exploitative there and you hurt her. So maybe it’s good that you’re feeling bad about it.

I didn’t say I felt bad about it, he said.

He and Rachel started seeing each other in July. Everyone in school had known she liked him, and she seemed to view the attachment between them as a personal achievement on her part. As to the actual relationship, it mostly took place before nights out, when she would put make-up on and complain about her friends and Connell would sit around drinking cans. Sometimes he looked at his phone while she was talking and she would say: You’re not even listening. He hated the way he acted around her, because she was right, he really didn’t listen, but when he did, he didn’t like anything she actually said. He only had sex with her twice, neither time enjoyable, and when they lay in bed together he felt a constricting pain in his chest and throat that made it difficult to breathe. He had thought that being with her would make him feel less lonely, but it only gave his loneliness a new stubborn quality, like it was planted down inside him and impossible to kill.