Chapter summaries

Chapter 1 – January 2011

Normal People by Sally Rooney begins with Connell arriving at Marianne’s house to pick his mother up from work. Connell and Marianne are in the same year of secondary school, and Connell’s mother, Lorraine, works as a cleaner for Marianne’s family. Marianne opens the door for Connell and invites him into the kitchen, where they discuss their mock exam results. Connell and Marianne have both got great results, being some of the best students in the class. 

Marianne has no friends in school and spends most of her time alone, often showing that she believes she is better than other people. Connell thinks Marianne is the smartest person in school and dreads being alone with her, but he also wishes to say things that would impress her. Marianne and Connell never talk in school, and Connell appreciates the fact that she does not approach him or show others that they know each other. 

Marianne asks Connell about their teacher Miss Neary, who seems to flirt with Connell in class, which is the subject of school gossip. Connell tells her he is not attracted to Miss Neary. Marianne says she thinks everyone assumes Connell likes Miss Neary because he blushes a lot when she talks to him, but she also says that Connell tends to blush a lot. She points out that Connell is currently blushing, which annoys Connell. Marianne asks him not to get upset with her, as he is the only person who talks to her. Connell says he does not hate Marianne.

Connell thinks about the sense of privacy he feels when talking to Marianne because he knows she will not tell other people in school what they talk about. He thinks that when he is around her, he says things he normally would not say, and that confuses him. Marianne says she likes Connell, to which he does not know how to react. They are interrupted by Lorraine, who is ready to leave with Connell. Lorraine scolds Connell for not saying goodbye to Marianne, and he does, without looking her in the eye. In the car, Lorraine tells Connell that Marianne is a very sensitive person.

Chapter 2 – Three Weeks Later (February 2011)

Marianne gets ready and heads outside, but her brother Alan stops her to ask where she is going. He tells Marianne she does not have any friends and grabs her roughly by the arm to pull her back when she tries to leave. He warns her not to tell their mother, and Marianne says she will not and that she is just going outside for a walk. She goes outside and sends a text to let someone know she is on her way. 

Marianne remembers the time all the pupils went to watch the school soccer team in the final of a competition. Marianne felt like an outsider as usual and watched Connell as he played. Marianne notices her classmates do not seem to find school as oppressive as she does. She also thinks about how Connell has started coming to her house more often to pick his mother up. They share book recommendations, and Connell says he likes hearing Marianne’s opinion, which he often agrees with. He notes that Marianne acts differently in class than how she does when they’re alone. 

Connell asks Marianne if when she said she liked him, she meant it just as a friend, and she says she did not. Connell says he thinks it would be weird in school if anything romantic happened between them, but Marianne says they can keep their relationship a secret. They kiss, and Connell makes Marianne promise not to tell anyone. The next day at school, Marianne and Connell do not speak to each other but Connell does not go to Marianne’s house for a few days. When he finally comes again, they kiss and are on good terms with each other. 

Chapter 3 – One Month Later (March 2011)

Connell and Marianne are in bed, talking about their college applications. Marianne is planning to go to Trinity College in Dublin to study History and Politics, and Connell has applied for Law in Galway. However, Marianne tells him he should study English since that is the subject he enjoys the most.

Connell thinks about the first time he and Marianne had sex. Other girls had always told everyone at school after they had slept with him, but Marianne had told no one, which Connell liked. When Lorraine came home, she joked about Connell’s bedsheets being in the washing machine and asked Connell who he was sleeping with, but Connell did not say. 

At school, Connell’s friend Rob asked questions about Connell’s mother working for Marianne’s house. After school, Connell went to Marianne’s house, and they had sex again. He wondered why he was attracted to Marianne specifically, but he did not know. Connell thought Marianne lived a free life, while he always cared about what others thought of him. 

Marianne and Connell discuss college again. Connell thinks about his life in Carricklea and knows he could keep the same social circle if he went to university in Galway, which is closer ...

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