Unless you have gone into complete isolation during lockdown you’ve probably seen, read or heard of Normal People. The BBC released a series based on the Sally Rooney novel of the same name at the end of April. It soon became the thing to watch whilst being stuck indoors. Of course I binged all 12 episodes, fell in love with it, quickly bought the book and read it. If you’ve not taken much notice of the Normal People hype, you’re probably thinking what’s so great about it?
Normal People centres around characters Marianne and Connell throughout school and university. You watch the pair continuously try and fail to ignore the chemistry between themselves. The whole plot is a will-they-won’t-they but Sally Rooney’s writing makes it a lot more emotional than that.
The time frame of the story lets you observe Marianne and Connell grow as people. For example, Marianne at school is a loner (her only friend being Connell but they hide their relationship from their school peers) but once she goes off to Trinity College she becomes popular.
There’s a great focus on Marianne and Connell’s mental health. The situations that trigger or cause their spirals feel real. I’ve found when characters in other stories get diagnosed with depression, it feels like an after thought. Something the writer chucked in there to pretend they’ve not created weirdly perfect characters.
We know Connell is flawed from the very beginning — e.g he’s terrified of other people’s opinions of him hence his secret relationship with Marianne. He goes from being popular at secondary school to not feeling like he fits in with the wealthy middle class students at Trinity. There’s a build to him getting diagnosed with depression later on in the story.
I think this is what separates Normal People from any other love story. Although their relationship is central to the plot, you’re allowed to get to know Marianne and Connell individually. Quite often, especially in novels, one character is little more 3D than the other. I think this is something very unique to Normal People rather than Sally Rooney as I’m currently reading Conversations With Friends and I’ve really only been able to get to know one character.
However, one of my favourite things about Normal People is that I don’t hate Marianne. Time and time again I watch or read something and I find the main female character absolutely insufferable because of their ‘perfect’ image. Too many writers create women that never really do anything wrong. She’s drop dead gorgeous but doesn’t know it and the only thing she does is get a boyfriend.
Marianne at first glance seems like she’s nothing but these typical character tropes. She’s extremely insecure and constantly asks Connell if he think she’s pretty. However, Rooney gives you the possible reasons for this lack of confidence. Marianne’s mother and brother look down on her and the kids at school make fun of her. Marianne makes mistakes and like Connell is depicted as somebody quite flawed.
Nothing about Normal People feels unbelievable, the two main characters act like real people. A lot of people on Twitter made comments on how they relate to both Marianne and Connell — probably because they’ve been written with a very human vulnerability. I think this is what made Normal People so emotional. I cried throughout the series and then cried all over again whilst reading the novel.
It’s just been announced the series will be returning for a two part special for Irish Comic Relief. The episodes will air everywhere else sometime in July. It’s been refreshing to find something that doesn’t just feel like a chunk of somebody’s imagination. I am absolutely obsessed with Normal People.