Sally Rooney’s Normal People has developed quite the buzz. Longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, earning a spot among Barack Obama’s favorite books of 2019, and rated by many of my friends as five-stars—I was excited to finally read Rooney’s critically acclaimed work. I ordered my copy from CoMo-local booksellers Skylark Bookshop for my quarantine reading enjoyment.
Except, I didn’t love it.
Immediately, I knew Rooney and I were going to have issues when I discovered Normal People doesn’t use quotation marks to indicate dialogue—one of my biggest pet peeves. I have yet to decipher what literary meaning the lack of quotation marks imbues on a work, except to only signal literary greatness without having to do any of the work (that, and to drive me insane).
There isn’t exactly a plot in Normal People, which is fine. It follows the story of Connell and Marianne, two young Irish millennials, and how their lives circle each other from high school to college. It’s about love, friendship, and what it means to be normal (or, on the contrast, what it means to be human). Rooney’s exploration of normalcy—its facade, its lack thereof, and its perception—is the most fascinating and well executed aspect of this novel.
While characters criticize themselves for not being normal, the reader is able to relate with their eccentricities in various forms, raising the question, what is normal? Is “normal” what is universal, what is right and good by societal standards, or is the only “normal” thing about any of us our complete lack of normalcy? Is it normal to be unnormal? Rooney explores this at length through Connell and Marianne.
However, through the hyper-focus on Connell and Marianne, character development on literally any other person in the book is totally lost. Connell and Marianne themselves experience little growth throughout the novel. They are cynical, melancholic, and maladjusted. Perhaps those are manageable characteristics in protagonists, but the romanticized vision of cool encapsulated by shrugs, smoking, apathy, and alienation is trite and overdone. Their relationship is cyclical and unhealthy, and the most uncomfortable dynamics of their relationship are never truly resolved.
However, if you were a once-fan of John Green and Looking for Alaska, Normal People is a good adult, literary fiction novel for your TBR.
Don’t get me wrong, Normal People has beautiful paragraphs where points are made (I mean, the self-aware criticism of modern literature that takes place when Connell attends a university reading? WOW!). However, overall, this book wasn’t for me.
While I wasn’t thrilled with the book, I am thrilled about this dish it inspired. When Connell and other friends visit Marianne in her Italy summer home, they eat pasta for dinner. It’s mentioned in passing (“The pasta is delicious, says Elaine.”), which gave me plenty of room to dream up what they’re eating.Thinking these are rich college students spending their summer in Italy, I imagined they were eating a simultaneously easy but decadent dish. This roasted tomato pasta is just that—easy to put together but made oh-so-delicious by the cherry tomatoes that are at their peak in summer.
Summer Roasted Tomato Fettuccine
Perfect for enjoying in your Italian holiday home; or at least perfect for helping you imagine you have an Italian holiday home.
Yield: 4 servings | Cook time: 30 min
- 16 oz grape or cherry tomatoes
- 4 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 16 oz fettuccine
- 4 oz bocconcini
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- ¼ cup parmesan
- Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, fresh basil leaves to taste
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees and set a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil.
- Half cherry tomatoes and toss with 2 Tbsp olive oil, garlic cloves, salt, and pepper. Roast on baking sheet for 15-20 minutes until tomatoes are wilted and tender.
- Meanwhile, cook fettuccine according to box instructions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water before straining.
- In a large skillet, combine remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil, butter, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper over medium-high heat.
- Once butter is fully melted, reduce to low heat and add pasta and parmesan until parmesan is melted and pasta is well coated. Add pasta water until you reach desired consistency.
- Gently toss in roasted tomatoes and garlic (along with any juice leftover from roasting), bocconcini, and basil.
- Serve and enjoy!
- If you can’t find fresh basil leaves (we couldn’t—what you see in the picture is actually spinach!), add in dried basil as the olive oil/butter combination heats up.
- This dish is easily adjusted—roast other vegetables you have in the house such as zucchini or asparagus with the tomatoes to add even more veggie-goodness!