Six Degrees of Separation: from Normal People to Mrs Dalloway

It’s the first Saturday in June and time for this month’s Six Degrees of Separation. This month, Kate has chosen Sally Rooney’s Normal People to start us on our way through our literary connections.


Normal People is everywhere, it seems, thanks to the recent tv adaptation. I haven’t read the book or watched the show. All I know are memes, such as the bizarre one focused on the chain worn by the actor who plays the male character that can apparently reduce some women to tears.


I believe Rooney’s book is about school friends who end up at university together and have a complicated relationship. A book I read recently about a university student is Elif Batuman’s The Idiot. I loved this examination of early adulthood and the transition from girl to woman, navigating new found independence, new formed friendships and the confusions of love.


The Idiot is semi-autobiographical and a coming of age novel, as is Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. I read Plath’s only novel at university. Its protagonist is an intern at a magazine, trying to work out who she is and what she wants, ambivalent about the relationship she is half in, half out of.


The lead character in The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood is a step further on. She has a job and is engaged, but her engagement and the telescoping lives of her female friends induce panic about whether her own life is what she wants.


The titular character in Elizabeth McKenzie’s book The Portable Veblen has similar doubts about whether the life track she’s on is headed in the right direction. She has no career track to follow and feels like she’s falling inevitably into marriage.


There’s an impending marriage in Maggie Shipstead’s Seating Arrangements, but in this tale it’s the father of the bride who falls apart. He’s having his own midlife crisis which is compounded by thoughts of his daughter joining her life to another man’s and leaving him behind. His daughter, in contrast, knows precisely what she wants.


My final book in this chain is Mrs Dalloway. Here is a woman looking back instead of forward, reflecting on choices she has made and the life she has lived as a result. She married the type of dependable but dull man who is the cause of so much soul searching in The Edible Woman and The Portable Veblen. She rejected but is still intrigued by the more enigmatic man, and she wonders about what could have been between her and a close female friend.

I’ve hopped from women at the start of their adult lives to those considering whether the big step they need to take next is the right one, and ended with characters who look back on the choices they have made and whether life could have been any other way. All of them are as normal as any person can be.

Who would your normal people be, if you took part in the challenge? Why not head over to Kate’s blog to see who other readers have chosen?


10 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: from Normal People to Mrs Dalloway

  1. I have read The Bell Jar (she grew up 3 miles from where I live and it is usually required sooner or later in school or university) and Mrs. Dalloway but I was most intrigued by The Portable Veblen, the only one I’d never heard of! It’s now on reserve – if the library ever reopens . . .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fantastic chain. I loved Seating Arrangements and Portable Veblen (I’m not normally into magic realism but she pulled it off brilliantly). I have The Idiot in my reading stack -the way you’ve linked it makes me think I should move it up the list.

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  3. What a great theme, Jan! I am planning a reread of Mrs D any time now. I enjoyed it the first time around and then couldn’t get through it on the second reading. So a third attempt might get me off the fence!

    Liked by 1 person

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