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Normal People by Sally Rooney Read Online (FREE)

She tucked a hand behind her head. Do you honestly think you’re cool? she said.

Well, not anymore.

She smiled to herself. Good, she said. It’s good that you’re not.

Helen and Marianne first met back in February, on Dawson Street. He and Helen were walking along holding hands when he saw Marianne coming out of Hodges Figgis wearing a black beret. Oh, hi, he said in an agonised voice. He thought of dropping Helen’s hand but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Hi, Marianne said. You must be Helen. The two women then made perfectly competent and genial conversation while he stood there panicking and staring at various objects in the surrounding environment.

Afterwards Helen asked him: So you and Marianne, were you always just friends, or …? They were in his room then, off Pearse Street. Buses went by outside and threw a column of yellow light on the bedroom door.

Yeah, more or less, he said. Like, we were never together as such.

But you’ve slept together.

Yeah, kind of. No, yeah, to be fair, we have. Is that a big deal?

No, I’m just curious, said Helen. It was like a friends-with-benefits thing?

Basically. In final year of school, and for a while last year. It wasn’t serious or anything.

Helen smiled at him. He was raking his bottom lip with his teeth, something he remembered to stop doing only after she’d already seen him.

She looks like she goes to art college, said Helen. I guess you think she’s really chic.

He gave a little laugh, looked at the floor. It’s not like that, he said. We’ve known each other since we were kids.

It doesn’t have to be weird that she’s your ex, Helen said.

She’s not my ex. We’re just friends.

But before you were friends, you were …

Well, she wasn’t my girlfriend, he said.

But you had sex with her, though.

He covered his entire face in his hands. Helen laughed.

After that, Helen was determined to make friends with Marianne, as if to prove a point. When they saw her at parties Helen went out of her way to compliment her hair and clothing, and Marianne would nod vaguely and then continue expressing some in-depth opinion about the Magdalene Laundry report or the Denis O’Brien case. Objectively Connell did find Marianne’s opinions interesting, but he could see how her fondness for expressing them at length, to the exclusion of lighter conversation, was not universally charming. One evening, after an overly long discussion about Israel, Helen became irritable, and on the walk home she told Connell that she found Marianne ‘self-absorbed’.

Because she talks about politics too much? said Connell. I wouldn’t call that self-absorbed, though.

Helen shrugged, but drew a breath inwards through her nose that indicated she didn’t like his interpretation of her point.

She was the same way in school, he added. But she’s not putting it on, she’s genuinely interested in that stuff.

She really cares about Israeli peace talks?