Beerside Chat -> Normal People & White Teeth
This summer, Truth Well Brewed’s Book Club returned to read back-to-back buzzworthy author Sally Rooney’s sophomore novel, Normal People, and Zadie Smith’s 2000 debut novel, White Teeth. Inspired by McCann New York’s success during awards season, TWB’s Book Club wanted to give a nod to the 28-year-old Rooney’s similarly extraordinary recognition, as she has won British Book Awards’ Book of the Year, 2018 Costa Novel Award, Irish Book Awards’ Novel of the Year and Waterstones Fiction Book of the Year 2018, as well as being named ‘the first great millennial author’ by The New York Times for Normal People. The readers then wanted to travel to the best-seller Smith’s London, where she would further open their minds to how terms such as ‘multi-culture,’ ‘diversity,’ ‘race’ and ‘identity’ are seen, heard, understood and felt…even 19 years later.
Yes, both authors’ stories contrasted entirely in context, place and time, though each author shared a distinct commonality: her one-of-a-kindness, both in voice and in style. Rooney and Smith’s executions had flare. These women breathed life into their cast of characters, so much so, it was as though the readers personally knew them by their book’s end. And this is exactly where TWB’s Book Club’s discussions primarily zeroed in, how both Rooney and Smith interwove their protagonists’ and minor characters’ complexities together, weaving and paralleling each individual’s perceptions, thoughts, interactions, reactions and dialogues to manifest such realistic stories that engaged differing socioeconomic backgrounds, childhood upbringings, religious beliefs, family dynamics, sexual orientations, cultures, dialects, birthplaces and personal afflictions.
Rooney’s Normal People followed Marianne and Connell, she the loner and he the popular heartthrob, as their undeniable connection evolved from high school through university, ultimately posing the questions: What is friendship? What is love? What deems a relationship as ‘normal?’ Does ‘normalcy’ even exist? Smith’s White Teeth followed Archie and Samad, as well as both of their families, each husband, wife, daughter and sons navigating their everyday lives in London, whether that was serving curry in a restaurant, joining a militant movement, pining after a romantic crush, believing Judgement Day was coming or flipping a coin to make the final decision (if it was Heads…or…if it was Tails…), to ultimately discover they both perceived a ‘duty’ in this life they chose to live out as best as they could.
Therefore, in closing, it is fair to say these two novels beautifully challenged TWB’s Book Club’s readers to further expand themselves to how they truly perceive, think, interact, react and speak in their acquaintanceships, friendships and relationships. And isn’t that what reading books is all about? To be pushed, encouraging and nurturing personal growth?