I don’t typically write about books that I’ve been reading, or what I’ve been watching on TV but I suddenly felt really compelled to write about, yep you guessed it…The telefilm adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel ‘Normal People’.
A lot of people are musing about how good it is and they’re right
It’s properly brilliant.
The original novel has been on my reading list for ages, however, for one reason or another, it kept slipping back in the pecking order, behind Glennon Doyle’s ‘Untamed’ (Very self-indulgent and preachy 3/10) and Vet In A Harness by James Herriot (Very the opposite 10/10). That said, I decided to give the BBC / Hulu adaptation of Normal People a whirl before reading the book as I love dramas that are set in Ireland, I rate Daisy Edgar Jones having seen her in Cold Feet and the brooding, passionate and almost mesmerising trailer looked seriously enticing. A lot of people are saying that the TV drama is better than the book, others saying it’s very true to the book. Unlike the (mildly plot comparable) film adaptation of David Nicholl’s ‘One Day’ which was super disappointing. I can imagine a lot of people were waiting with bated breath to see how their favourite book was reimagined for TV.
There are 12 episodes available to watch on Iplayer, all of which are around the 20-30 minute mark so it’s SUPER digestible and binge-able in one sitting. The episodes feel like miniature feature films in themselves as the pace is quite leisurely and dreamy. Don’t get me wrong though, you’re left wanting more no matter how slowly we’re cranked up.
Just a disclaimer, it goes without saying, if you’re wanting to watch Normal People, or read the book without knowing anything about the plot, maybe check back here afterwards to avoid me unintentionally spoiling anything for you.
My thoughts on the television adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People
Staring Daisy Edgar Jones as the complex Marianne Sheridan and Paul Mescal in his first television role as the sensitive Connell Waldron, the pair start out as classmates at school in County Sligo before the story follows them to university at the prestigious red brick Trinity College, Dublin. The story depicts how they weave in and out of each other’s lives at every stage – Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.
One of the reasons why I really resonate with the story is because of the pure nostalgia it conjures up. Nostalgia for a time in my own life when I was 17/18. A time whereby first love was all-encompassing and I was apprehensively waiting to head off to university. Looking ahead to a land of rich opportunities, limitless hopes and dreams – Waving at my future on the horizon. I think that’s why I like it so much, it’s very relatable. As are the characters, despite their flaws.
Connell and Marianne and the nature of their relationship is really believable on screen, Daisy Edgar Jones and Paul Mescal appear to have a really genuine, intense and convincing chemistry which is difficult to achieve. I can’t imagine anyone else playing the protagonists, they’re a really authentic casting.
I think we’ve all been a little Marianne or maybe a little Connell in our younger selves, or least have known people like them.
At the beginning of the story when we meet the characters, Connell is gregarious, sporty and popular at school. Marianne is someone who sits on the sidelines looking through the window at the ‘fun’ (often at her expense). She’s bookish, sharp-witted and complicated. It’s because of these differences, that the pair begin their relationship in secret to avoid a backlash from their peers.
There’s also a class divide at play, Marianne is from a wealthy family, Connell from a working-class family (His mother actually works for Marianne’ family as a cleaner). And whilst they are both intelligent in their own right, each one yearns for a little bit of what the other has, that is until fate steps in and makes this actually happen.
In school, Connell is in a relatively comfortable bubble. At Trinity College, his peers are mostly upper-middle-class and he struggles to find his place, whereas Marianne comfortably, flourishes in this environment. I think it’s the same for a lot of people in real life too, some people bloom at university, others feel out of their depth. I was one of the latter. Similarly to Marianne, I knew people who went off to university in an incredibly privileged position with tuition and accommodation paid and accounted for, not a worry of student debt in sight. I myself, like Connell, had to rely on student loans and getting a part-time job to see me through. It definitely adds some pressure and worries, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t – I definitely resonate more with the character of Connell in this respect.
But what really struck me was Connell’s personal struggle to adapt to the culture at university. He was having a perfectly good time at home in his small, knowing and comfortable hometown. Why did things have to change? This was exactly how I felt, caught in a space between wanting to stay exactly where I was and moving into a new life – Into a new life of which my friends and peers seemed to be acclimatising perfectly.
Normal People is such a treat to watch visually
Cinematically, Normal People is shot so beautifully, every scene is bathed in a soft-focus light, captured in an appealingly muted colour palette that depicts the tone and mood of the story unfolding before us. One thing I wasn’t expecting was the amount of full-frontal, passionate sex! There’s a lot of hot and heavy, so maybe not one to watch with your Mum. However, I must note that there is a brilliant scene where consent to sex is perfectly portrayed without being at all awkward. It’s steamy, but it’s not unrealistic movie-style sex which is a blessing.
Is Normal People a love story? I’d say yes, a love story of mutual fascination. It has a very ambiguous ending IMO but it’s also really frustrating how two people who on the face of it seem to know each other on a profound level, keep missing the boat with each other so much. It’s hard work watching them trying to figure it out and stick together…Or not.
But what I really get from the story is that Normal People has left us all looking back on the showreel of our own lives, offering a nod to those special people we’ve met along the way that we have had some kind of spiritual connection with as well as viewing our own maturity progressing.
10/10 must watch. Go and watch it now!
Have you seen Normal People or read the book?