“Marianne answers the door when Connell rings the bell.”

Normal People by Sally Rooney

This is pretty much something Connell would sing to Marianne, by the way.

The last line of the book:

I’ll always be here. You know that.

Don’t you love it when the first sentence of a novel connects seamlessly with the last? It gives the whole story a gift-wrapped feeling. The first line and last line of this book are like the catch that turns a string into a circle. And these two lines basically sum up their entire dynamic: Marianne will always answer the door when it’s Connell ringing the bell. She will always be here.

This book reminds me so much of my favourite book, One Day by David Nicholls. It follows the years of these two people’s lives–two people who keep coming back to each other because of an attachment that neither can explain.

First of all, the book was wonderfully written. The language was poetic without being flowery, and the dialogue felt natural. The characters were very real to me, even though not as relatable. I couldn’t really identify with either of them, but that was okay. In this story I didn’t really need to relate to either character in order to care about them, kind of like when you can’t understand a friend’s decision, but you support them anyway.

I feel that this book is not so much trying to address any issues about sexuality as simply just bringing attention to the fact that there are various different people with different preferences, but they are still just people, even if we cannot understand them. At least that’s what I took away from it. There were no heavy handed morals or judgements being handed down–just an interesting look into the lives of two people and the ones who love them.

My favourite dynamic in this book is the relationship between Connell and his mother. It was wholesome, even though they were not a wholesome family. Connell calls his mother by her first name, which I think shows the maturity and closeness of their relationship rather than the emotional distance it might initially imply.

Overall I would read this book again. This book reads like it has many layers, enough to be discovered by second and third readings. Plus it’s just enjoyable. It was not a suspense novel where you are just reading it to get to the Big Reveal, but I was emotionally invested enough in the characters to want to keep reading.

“There is no such thing as a fact.”

There is only how you saw the fact, in a given moment. How you reported the fact. How your brain processed that fact. There is no extrication of the storyteller from the story.

Jodi Picoult, Small Great Things

Picoult was born in 1966 and she published her first novel at age 26.

It’s all bias, isn’t it?

This was a great novel, by the way. I think it was overshadowed by The Hate U Give, which came out around the same time and covered a similar theme. But as always with Picoult’s books, I was very moved. Would read again.

“If you can’t afford a movie, go to the zoo. If you can’t afford the zoo, go see a politician.”

Stephen King, The Stand

King was born in 1947, and published his first novel, Carrie, at age 26.

I need to read The Stand again. Is the movie ever getting done, by the way?

“She was the reason I was a reader, and being a reader was what had made me most myself…”

Curtis Sittenfeld, American Wife

She was the reason I was a reader, and being a reader was what had made me most myself; it had given me the gifts of curiosity and sympathy, an awareness of the world as an odd and vibrant contradictory place, and it had me unafraid of its oddness and vibrancy and contradictions.

Sittenfeld was born in 1975 and she published her first novel at age 30.

I really enjoyed reading American Wife. It was a while ago but I still remember it being one of those books that I wanted to make last. You know the type. The kind of book that is not just pure suspense, but the book you take with you everywhere you go because you want to be able to pull it out and read the next bit at any moment.

There were alot of insightful and useful quotes from this book, but I chose this one because it says so much of what I want to say about reading.

“Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”

Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

Bronte died at age 30.

Wuthering Heights remains one of my favourite books. One of the best gothic romances of all time.

“It feels powerful to him to put an experience down in words, like he’s trapping it in a jar and it can never leave him.”

Sally Rooney, Normal People

Rooney was born in 1991, and published her first novel at age 26.

This is exactly how I feel about writing, yet I was never able to put it into these words. Thank you.

“If love remains despite the pain of those differences, it must be guarded as rare…”

Amy Tan, The Valley of Amazement

Full excerpt:

Teddy once told me that it’s natural that we feel alone, and that’s because our hearts are different from others and we don’t even know how. When we’re in love, as if by magic, our different hearts come together perfectly toward the same desire. Eventually, the differences return, and then comes heartache and mending, and, in between, much loneliness and fear. If love remains despite the pain of those differences, it must be guarded as rare…

Tan was born in 1952 and published her first novel at age 37.

This remains one of my favourite quotes. It illustrates the requirements of lasting love so perfectly and succinctly.

The quote reminds me of when Jamie observed that there is always a stage in any relationship where there is a power struggle, usually after Year One and during Years Two and Three. The power struggle between two people and their opinions and beliefs–a tug of war to decide who will have the final say over just about anything. This quote says that if we can get through that power struggle stage and still love each other, then that love is rare. I agree wholeheartedly.

“She was aware first of the scent of the hotel shampoo, a Middle Eastern aroma reminiscent of anise, and then–when she opened her eyes–the way the light from the window was different from the light in the rooms in the hotel where the crew usually stayed.

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian

Photo of flight attendants from the 1960s.

A very very long first sentence to a novel, but it worked to set the scene. Immediately we know that the character is in the Middle East, and that she is waking in a place she would normally not stay at. Immediately we have a bunch of questions we want to answer and so we read on.

This was an enjoyable read. I was hooked into the story and I wanted to read it to the end even though it didn’t seem like there was a mystery to begin with. I wanted to read it to the end because I wanted to know what happens to Cassie. She is a likeable character (an unpopular opinion, apparently) and I found her relatable.

Cassie is a flight attendant who is also an alcoholic. She has blackouts from drinking too much and this aspect of her character is what sets the scene for the rest of the book. Something life-destroying happens to Cassie and we follow along to see how everything unravels.

This is the first book from Bohjalian that I’ve ever read, so I didn’t really have any expectations of what it’d be like. I picked this book off of the featured shelf at my local library and got lucky that I just happened to like it.

This book worked for me because I was wanting to read more suspense, and The Flight Attendant provided it. The story wasn’t exactly believable in regards the FBI and police, but that’s why it’s fiction. I would read another book from this same author as I really like his writing style. It’s not too flowery, it’s straight to the point, and it has a good mix of action and exposition to keep the story flowing.

Alcoholism is one of the central themes in this book. I don’t know very much about the topic beyond what’s been covered in popular culture, so I have no idea if Bohjalian did it justice. What I like is that there wasn’t some heavy-handed moral being slapped down about alcohol abuse. It didn’t feel like the author was pushing his personal opinions with this novel.

As for whether I’d read this book again: nah. It’s a one and done book.

“Live long enough and you’ll disappoint everyone.”

Dave Eggers, A Hologram for the King

Eggers was born in 1970 and published his first novel at age 30.

Full excerpt:

Live long enough and you’ll disappoint everyone. People think you’re able to help them and usually you can’t. And so it becomes a process of choosing the one or two people you try hardest not to disappoint. The person in my life I am determined not to disappoint is you.

I believe the protagonist says this to his daughter, if I recall correctly. I could be wrong. I like this quote because it shows one way that we love another.

“Remember that person you wanted to be? There’s still time.”

Chris Bohjalian, The Flight Attendant

Bohjalian was born in 1962 and he published his first novel at age 26.

This quote is recalled by the protagonist of the book, whose life is in complete shambles due to her alcoholism.

It’s something I want to remember as I often fall victim to the thought that “all my best years are behind me”.

There’s still time!!!