There are two normal people—Connell and Marianne, who are so alike, and yet different from each other. The story has layers of abuse and mental health struggles that form the core of these people and play out in various, unexpected spaces. There's friendship, love and an irrepressible bond that makes them come back to each other, between partners, across moves, vacations and deaths.
Though the story lacks a clear motivation or plot, it portrays the mundane beautifully. It was slow, idyllic and described slivers of Dublin, Sweden and Sligo, both indoors and outdoors, across seasons. I particularly loved these slivers as it showed me what I did everyday but never really registered—like the tamping of a tea bag into a cup. I could see how the seconds ticked by and the years rolled by, and it made me want to be in their story, and to experience the kind of love one experiences when they're 16.
I enjoyed understanding their circles, marvelled at their knowledge, envied Marianne's wealth, and felt the same ache and anxiety the characters felt for, and with each other. I loved their unending love for each other through everything, but I definitely empathised with Connell more.
I was initially shocked by Rooney's decision to not use quotation marks, and it took me about 30 pages to get used to it. But the he says, she says technique also gets grating beyond a point.
What I disliked: The women were always seen cooking, cleaning, scrubbing the sink or rinsing cutlery. The men ate, partied, made sexual jokes, showed nudes of other women and even went so far as to assault or abuse the women—Marianne particularly being a victim of this. Connell doesn't do any of this, but I also never ever saw him make a meal. It hurt me to see a lack of agency for the women in this story, but since that's the world the writer built, I was ok to be immersed in it.
The entire book can be summarised in one quote the author uses:
"All these years they’ve been like two little plants sharing the same pot of soil, growing around one another, contorting to make room, taking certain unlikely positions."
I wouldn't say it's a must-read, but if you enjoy literary fiction that focuses on the mundane, you would like it.