How Sally Rooney’s novel became the literary phenomenon of the decade, Sian Cain January 8 2019 The Guardian
Booksellers are keeping stashes behind counters, others are having to put signs in windows to say it’s in stock … What is it about the novel that has resonated with so many people?
“A good measure of a book’s success is: are booksellers tired of being asked if they have it in stock? In one south London bookshop, the owner has put a sign in the window advising that yes, they do have copies of Sally Rooney’s Normal People, the literary phenomenon of the year.
This week, Rooney, 27, became the youngest novelist ever to land the Costa awards’ best novel category. Normal People is now favourite to win the prize for overall book of the year at the end of the month. Her second novel has been a surprise – not for its quality, which was assured after her confident debut Conversations with Friends – but for the response to it. There hasn’t been a literary novel that has had such an impact on conversation beyond the usual huddles of luvvies since perhaps Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, or, before that, Monica Ali’s Brick Lane, or even before that, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.”
Through the WI Lens
Rooney’s novel has become a literary hit because it captures something of the zeitgeist (in spite of being set five or six years ago) for Millennials. That mood is described here as the sense of ‘collective precariousness’ experienced by young people, “often overeducated, neurotic, slightly too self-aware”. Much has been written about Millennials: their neuroses, their obsession with self image, their poor material prospects and their preference for experiences over ownership, to name a few. In terms of wellness, they represent something of a paradox. On the one hand they have been dubbed ‘the wellness generation’ because they eat healthier and exercise more than previous generations. At the same time, they are experiencing high levels of depression, an unprecedented struggle with identity and the relentless pressures of social media. No wonder Normal People is resonating so much.
From a business perspective, knowing who our guests and customers are is vital to how we message, market, care for and relate to them. Without judgement or preconception but with an open and essentially human compassion.
“On such fragile foundations are built the first steps towards a more ethical kind of business, and who knows what virtuous circles might result?”
“Scientific evidence recently emerged that, contrary to earlier beliefs, Covid-19 can be spread by tiny droplets that we breathe out when we respire, called aerosols.”
“Economic wellbeing is part of the story, but it is also about finding less stressful lifestyles, in which healthy diet figures as a meaningful measure of success.”
“The industry has every asset needed to be a guiding light in the shift toward personal health priority. Will that become a prevention legacy, a ‘phoenix rising’ from the Covid-19 ashes?”
“Looking at the bigger picture, putting the measures in this order represents a lost opportunity that the pandemic could have offered for a cultural pivot pivot towards getting people more focused on their health, a powerful statement of intent.”
“Employment is necessary to fulfil our most basic human needs such as food and shelter. Any significant increase in long-term unemployment will spell a retrograde step for human wellbeing like no other.”
“All roads lead to a wellbeing anchor, whether that be economic/financial, physical, mental or emotional: all contribute to a progressive and inclusive cosmopolitan world. The answer should not be a choice of one or the other but of a joined up and compassionate solution for society, business and individuals.”
“The paradox is that we continue to do this in spite of recognising that striving to become ever-more productive is an intrinsically unhealthy behaviour, leading to stress and too often, a sense of failure.”
“The same broad-sweeping structural racism that enables police brutality against black Americans is also responsible for higher mortality among black Americans with Covid-19,” Maimuna Majumder, a Harvard epidemiologist working on the Covid-19 response, tells Vox.
The take-out from this? Wellbeing cannot exist at a more elevated level without our basic needs being met.