Marianne’s willingness to abase herself for love sees her repeatedly seek out violent or degrading sexual relationships – and later, in a climactic scene, to ask Connell if he would hit her. Though he declines, elsewhere he reflects on how “he has never been able to reconcile himself to the idea of losing his hold over her”. The uncomfortable relationship between Marianne’s low self-esteem and her masochistic streak has been criticised by some in the BDSM (Bondage, Domination, Submission, and Masochism) community, but is one of the themes explored in the medley of short stories in Bad Behavior, the collection that made Mary Gaitskill’s name. Like Normal People, this book is full of frank depictions of sex and off-kilter balances of power, and it also contains the story that inspired the strange but charming BDSM romcom Secretary, starring Maggie Gyllenhall. The original version is darker, but just as intriguing – as are many of the stories. If you like what you read, be sure to pick up Gaitskill’s post-#MeToo novella This is Pleasure.
From our article Books like Normal People