Book Review: None of This Is Serious

none of this serious

This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.

Catherine Prasifka’s debut has been likened to the published works of Sally Rooney. Although equally compelling, it is harder hitting and more authentic. The reader is placed inside the head of a modern day twenty-one year old named Sophie. It proves a troubling place to be.

Sophie lives with her parents in Dublin and has recently finished college where she studied politics. She has a close network of friends but feels more comfortable interacting via the internet. She is aware that her thoughts and views are coloured by what she compulsively reads there.

“I absorb it all like a sponge, trying to give my own thoughts substance. I hope for clarity, but instead my head is regurgitating content I’ve read on a loop. I don’t have anything to add.”

Sophie regards her generation as facing particular difficulties those older than her cannot comprehend. She is obsessed with house prices, unable to see how she will ever be able to climb onto the property ladder without the parental help many in her network benefit from. She has yet to find a job and has little enthusiasm for those she applies for. She despairs of the economic and political choices made by those in power, naively believing older generations do not understand their effects.

“The one advantage of the shift in political discourse to the online sphere is that no one over the age of forty understands what they’ve unleashed upon the world.”

Sophie over thinks everything, particularly her interactions with other people. She may struggle to articulate an original thought but can quote at length from online articles read. She hopes to come across as informed. This is not always the impression that lingers in social situations.

“I wish this whole exchange had been a message, so I could contemplate each individual word”

Social media is portrayed as both a minefield and an addiction. The story captures with honesty the disconnection between knowing posts are carefully constructed and curated, and being unable to disbelieve other people do not live and think as depicted.

“The flat holds a certain amount of mystery for me, the way physical spaces do. I’ve only ever seen pictures of it on Instagram or in the background of selfies”

The story being told is set during the summer following the completion of university degrees. Alongside the drunken nights out are milestone events: results come in; job offers are accepted; Sophie’s twin sister, Hannah, returns to the parental home from Glasgow; they celebrate their birthday; Sophie spends a weekend at a coastal summer house owned by her best friend Grace’s parents. What sets the unfolding tale apart is the spiralling voice of the narrator. Following Sophie’s life feels like watching a slow motion car crash.

In amongst her friends are some Sophie is closer to and can talk with more easily. When she becomes involved with potential boyfriends she turns to Grace for advice, sharing details of texts received before responding. She uploads certain information to group chats, and then wonders what is being discussed about her. She puts on a front of compliance when home with her family, knowing that her parents have no idea that she is always on edge around Hannah who has bullied her for many years. Sophie uses food as a coping mechanism and hates the way her body looks, especially when compared to that of her twin.

Alongside what is going on in the lives under scrutiny, a crack has appeared in the sky.

”Where there was only light pollution, how there’s a hairline fracture spanning as far as I can see in either direction. It’s lit from within by a violet glow that seeps across the night sky.”

Experts cannot explain how it was caused or if it is having any effect on the earth and its inhabitants. This dominates news coverage initially but, as with every major event, interest soon wanes when nothing new about it can be revealed.

“if the crack is merely an illusion, then parts of the world not bathed in its glow should be the last bastions of normalcy … Instead, there’s nothing about it. This could be evidence of a grand conspiracy, or simply because we’re not used to sending reporters to those places unless there’s been some kind of disaster, especially if we can catalogue the damage in dead white people. We aren’t used to looking at these places and thinking normal, so they don’t exist.”

It is left to the reader to deduce what metaphor the author intends by running with this strange occurrence. When the crack briefly does more than simply exist, this corresponds to a serious implosion in Sophie’s lived experience.

Although not a slow start, the story builds momentum that inexorably draws the reader further in. When Sophie’s choices cause a serious unravelling, her friends are initially supportive but quickly turn from this to cast judgement. What is so disturbing to consider is how familiar all these behaviours are, and the known effects on the victim. Existing online offers little scope for privacy, and supporting a person under fire can lead to personally damaging associations.

Throughout, Sophie actively seeks a path that will enable her to move forward from the stalemate in which she finds herself on leaving university. She views her parents’ lives as no longer attainable. Her feminist leanings dislike the pervading thought that a wealthy partner could make her life so much easier.

Any Cop?: This is a remarkable work of fiction that portrays the contemporary lifestyle of young people who benefit from numerous privileges but remain shadowed by pressures caused by the all pervading internet. It is the Black Mirror of Instagram perfection.

Jackie Law

Book Review: Normal People

Normal People, by Sally Rooney, is a refreshingly linear story set between January 2011 and February 2015. It has two protagonists, Connell and Marianne, who get together during their final year at school. Connell is popular, sporty and intelligent, enjoying his place within his wide circle of friends. Marianne is bullied and derided, a loner who somehow copes as her homelife is worse. They agree to keep their burgeoning relationship secret. Connell does not wish to lose his social standing by association.

The ebb and flow of these two young people’s love affair is explored in forensic detail over the years. The setting moves from their hometown of Carricklea in Galway to the city of Dublin where they attend a prestigious university. Here the affluence of Marianne’s family offers her a stepping stone to acceptance. Connell feels out of place and almost friendless, unmoored by his change of circumstances. Both had hopes of escape and reinvention. The realities of changing a personality prove hard to sustain.

Marianne’s simmering hurts manifest in ways that appall Connell at a time when he has found a degree of peace elsewhere. When a mutual friend is found dead the importance ascribed to seemingly significant decisions is brought into relief. Each is questioning their recent past and where they can go next.

Through the years the two friends come together and drift apart, their confidences and social circles changing. The story is an exploration of intimacy, influence and the causes of dissonance. Marianne expresses a wish to be normal but cannot shed the demons of her upbringing. The supporting cast of characters demonstrate differing perceptions and what normal means.

The writing is honest in its portrayal of university students with their shallow convictions and closely guarded fears. Marianne and Connell may have something special between them, including a rare ability to discuss emotions, but they are still individuals and not mind readers. There are passions and jealousies, ambitions that they dare not articulate for fear of ridicule.

A novel that shivers with the traumas caused by the experience of living. A meticulous and compelling rendering of love and its shade.

Normal People is published by Faber & Faber