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Normal People by Sally Rooney Read Online (FREE)

Marianne hangs her coat beside her hat. What’s wrong with my clothes? she says mildly.

It’s just an expression, says Lukas.

She honestly can’t tell now if he meant to criticise her clothes or not. She’s wearing a grey lambswool sweater and a thick black skirt with knee-high boots. Lukas has bad manners, which, to Marianne, makes him seem childish. He never offers her coffee or tea when she arrives, or even a glass of water. He starts talking right away about whatever he has been reading or doing since her last visit. He doesn’t seem to crave her input, and sometimes her responses confuse or disorientate him, which he claims is an effect of his bad English. In fact his comprehension is very good. Anyway, today is different. She removes her boots and leaves them by the door.

There’s a mattress in the corner of the studio, where Lukas sleeps. The windows are very tall and run almost to the floor, with blinds and thin trailing curtains. Various unrelated items are dotted around the room: several large potted plants, stacks of atlases, a bicycle wheel. This array impressed Marianne initially, but Lukas later explained he had gathered the items intentionally for a shoot, which made them seem artificial to her. Everything is an effect with you, Marianne told him once. He took this as a compliment about his art. He does have immaculate taste. He’s sensitive to the most minuscule of aesthetic failures, in painting, in cinema, even in novels or television shows. Sometimes when Marianne mentions a film she has recently watched, he waves his hand and says: It fails for me. This quality of discernment, she has realised, does not make Lukas a good person. He has managed to nurture a fine artistic sensitivity without ever developing any real sense of right and wrong. The fact that this is even possible unsettles Marianne, and makes art seem pointless suddenly.

She and Lukas have had an arrangement for a few weeks now. Lukas calls it ‘the game’. Like any game, there are some rules. Marianne is not allowed to talk or make eye contact while the game is going on. If she breaks the rules, she gets punished later. The game doesn’t end when the sex is finished, the game ends when she gets in the shower. Sometimes after sex Lukas takes a long time before he lets her get in the shower, just talking to her. He tells her bad things about herself. It’s hard to know whether Marianne likes to hear those things; she desires to hear them, but she’s conscious by now of being able to desire in some sense what she does not want. The quality of gratification is thin and hard, arriving too quickly and then leaving her sick and shivery. You’re worthless, Lukas likes to tell her. You’re nothing. And she feels like nothing, an absence to be forcibly filled in. It isn’t that she likes the feeling, but it relieves her somehow. Then she showers and the game is over. She experiences a depression so deep it is tranquillising, she eats whatever he tells her to eat, she experiences no more ownership over her own body than if it were a piece of litter.