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Marianne and Connell's time at secondary school in County Sligo on Ireland's Atlantic coast, and later as undergraduates at Trinity College Dublin. The focus is mainly Connell's and Marianne's complex relationship. Among her peers at secondary school Marianne is regarded as an oddball, though she rejects having any care for social standing. Despite her academic achievements, her home life is complicated by her dismissive mother, Denise, and resentful brother, Alan. Her father is deceased and is revealed to have been a domestic abuser, though her family avoids mentioning him. Connell is a high-achieving athletic student living with his single mother Lorraine, who is employed by Denise as a cleaner. He is popular in the school community, though he is diminished by remaining silent during the bullying of Marianne. This creates complexity as their relationship develops.