This Month’s Book Review

To further spread our love of books, The Pear Bookclub has struck a unique partnership with Dymocks Glenelg. Dymocks are donating a number of new and reader’s copy books in support of The Pear’s neighbourhood program, in return for which our Bookclub coordinator Liz writes book reviews. The reader’s copies will be available in our Pear Bookshare street library, and the new books will be up for raffle each month! 

‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney

Sally Rooney is Irish and 28 years old. She is the highly acclaimed writer of two novels, Conversations with Friends, published in 2018 and Normal People, published in 2019. “Conversations” won her the Sunday Times Writer of the Year award, while “People” was long listed for the Booker Prize. She has been hailed as the voice of her generation and “Salinger for the snapchat generation, so what is the response from this somewhat aging reviewer?

When I first started reading Normal People, my immediate response was that this is Young Adult fiction and in one sense I was correct; this is a love story, of a kind and the protagonists, at the beginning of the book, are teenagers in their last year of school. But this novel goes way beyond the constraints of this genre.

Marianne and Connell, both of whom are academically very smart, live in a small town in County Sligo in the west of Ireland. She comes from a wealthy family, while Connell is poor and Lorraine, his mother, cleans for Marianne’s family. So far, so Romeo and Juliet, or a twenty first century Jane Austen or George Eliot, but Marianne and Connell don’t fall in love. They begin a sexual relationship, but it is covert because Connell is one of the most popular boys in the school and Marianne is a social isolate. Clearly this relationship, if made public, wouldn’t be good for Connell’s image.

Fast forward to the end of the year and both Connell and Marianne have been accepted into Dublin University; him to read English and, for her, politics. In Dublin the tables are turned. Marianne finds her niche among the rich, while Connell struggles to find his place. The power dynamics have changed and Connell finds himself on the edge of Marianne’s circle as a “rich adjacent” who gathers the crumbs left behind.

The story follows them over the next three years at university, where they come together and drift apart. They have relationships with other people, but never completely sever their connection.

I found this book fascinating and one which has stayed with me since I finished reading it. It’s a love story that, according to the protagonists, isn’t about love. It’s a story about wealth and power and social status and the divide between all of these. We see this particularly in their differing approaches to applying for full scholarships, which would pay all their expenses at university for the next five years. For Marianne it would be “a self esteem boost, a happy confirmation of what she has always believed about herself: that she’s special”, while for Connell it is “a giant material fact….he can do a postgraduate program for free……and never think about rent again until he finishes college.”

There are a lot of other characters in the book and some of them have a profound effect on the two of them, but ultimately all of these people are peripheral. The book is about deep connection and the internal landscapes of Marianne and Connell. “When he talks to Marianne he has a sense of total privacy between them…..Being alone with her is like opening a door away from normal life then closing it behind him.”

The novel asks the question; what is normal? Connell has a deep need to be normal, whatever that means, while Marianne is damaged and definitely not normal. He cares desperately about what other people think of him, while she cares only about what he thinks.

Ultimately this is a novel which, despite its dark aspects, is one of infinite tenderness and gentleness. Rooney’s prose is simple and lucid, with no authorial viewpoint. She simply observes her characters and travels with them so that, as readers, we have to make up our own minds about them. We ask ourselves whether Marianne and Connell should be together or whether their relationship is destructive, but, in an interview, Rooney said that “they never occurred to me without each other.”

After years of reading young adult fiction, as a High School English teacher, I didn’t expect to like this book very much. I loved it and highly recommend that you put aside any prejudices you might have and give it a try.

December 2019

We acknowledge, with gratitude, the donation of this book to The Pear, by Dymocks, Glenelg. It is available for purchase from them and as it is a reader’s copy, it will soon be available in The Pear Bookshare Little Street Library.

‘Ayesha at Last’ by Uzma Jalaluddin

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

“Because while it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single Muslim man must be in want of a wife, there’s an even greater truth: To his Indian mother, his own inclinations are of secondary importance.” So ends Chapter one of this novel, setting it firmly in Jane Austen territory and Khalid, the “hero” of the story could certainly be described, in some
ways, as a modern, Muslim Mr. Darcy. This, however, gradually becomes a soupy mixture of metaphors, with the rest of the book giving more than a nod to Shakespeare’s plays, with the end result being a mishmash of Muslim, Indian and Afghani characters embroiled in a melodrama, with a light seasoning of Bollywood thrown in.

So what is this novel about? It is a romantic comedy, set in Canada, with the
abovementioned crop of characters, and centres around Ayesha, a strong young Muslim Indian woman, still single at twenty seven and Khalid, who believes, at the start of the novel, that mother knows best and an arranged marriage is all that will be required to make him happy, because, after all, “love comes after marriage”, or does it?

Ayesha is a poet who has become a teacher; a sensible option, which she finds to be a struggle. Khalid is a traditional Muslim man, or “fundy” as Ayesha initially describes him. His beard flows and he wears traditional dress which causes him problems with his new boss at work. While he has admired Ayesha from afar, their first meeting is not auspicious. Add to
this, mistaken identity, Khalid’s awful, interfering mother, a cousin of Ayesha’s who is basically a grown up toddler and thoroughgoing spoilt brat, Khalid’s friend who is the antithesis of the good Muslim, being a drunk and a womaniser and you have a mess of potage.

The Jane Austen reference fades from page five, apart from Khalid’s vague nod to Mr. Darcy and Shakespeare enters with a vengeance in the form of Ayesha’s wise old grandfather, who had been an English professor, with a deep love of the Bard. So the novel becomes a comedy of errors, again with a Bollywood twist, which romps its way to a fitting conclusion.

I enjoyed reading this book. The characters were entertaining and there was just enough seriousness in it to make the reader want to find out how it would all be resolved. I found the ending slightly disappointing; it was almost as if the author had decided, “okay. Enough’s enough so we need a wrap on this.” So the last few chapters were all a bit neat and rushed, however as a piece of charming and amusing escapism, this was fun and a
quick read.

November 2019

We acknowledge, with gratitude, the donation of this book to The Pear, by Dymocks, Glenelg. It is available for purchase from them and is part of the November Book Raffle. Raffle tickets can be purchased at The Pear cafe.