This was recently released online for the first time by The White Review, and while reading it I had a lot of questions: is this canon? Where did it fall in the timeline of writing Normal People?
This interview with Sally Rooney in the New Statesman sheds some light on the timeline question:
The book started as a short story, “At The Clinic”, which sees a 23-year-old Connell driving Marianne to the dentist. “I kept wanting to write about these characters who were in their early twenties,” Rooney tells me, “and their relationship had this texture to it because of their history. Eventually, I thought, what if I just went back and just told their story from the beginning, chronologically.”
I like the ambiguity of Normal People’s ending, and I wonder if Sally Rooney still feels like this is where Marianne and Connell would end up. It would certainly fit the pattern of their relationship throughout the book, although as a reader I also have hope that the characters would start to work on their communication.
I liked At the Clinic — Rooney’s writing here follows the same approach from Normal People, balancing what her characters are feeling versus what they say to each other. Rooney is so good at drawing out the tension between the internal life of her characters and their external words and actions — there’s a rhythm in her writing sometimes, where she has these short, ambiguous exchanges between her characters that play against the longer internal passages. All this stuff is happening underwater, but only a tiny bit of it makes it to the surface:
For a moment she pretends to be engaged in reading. He can see she’s deciding what to do or say. The workings of Marianne’s mind become transparent to him in brief flashes like this before they recede again.