Normal People

A great example of how TV series book adaptations are far superior to film.

A few months ago, I saw the first trailer for the Hulu show, Normal People. Even though I’d had the book on my shelf for some time, it was still unread—like most of the books on my shelf. I decided to read it closer to the release date for the show because I knew with my shitty memory, I would forget all the details if I read it too early. It ended up being my favorite read of April! Here is the Goodreads synopsis:

At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school soccer team while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. But when Connell comes to pick his mother up from her housekeeping job at Marianne’s house, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers – one they are determined to conceal.

A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines, shy and uncertain. Throughout their years in college, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. Then, as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.

Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love, and the complex entanglements of family and friendship.

This isn’t a unique or groundbreaking premise, but the writing of these characters is so compelling.

Rooney accurately portrays the confusion that comes with young relationships, especially in this modern age. I found myself yelling at this couple: “JUST TALK TO EACH OTHER!!!!” And yet, you keep reading because Connell and Marianne continue to pull you in deep—you just want everything to work out for them. All they know is that they are their truest selves when they are together—something they reference on more than one occasion. And yet, they can never get their timing right.   There is a great deal of vulnerability between the two of them especially during the intimate moments. For example, their first time is awkward, but very vulnerable and this intimacy carries with them through the years. They both experience depression and grief in different ways, but are always theThis was very apparent in the book and for the series—which Rooney co-wrote 10 of the 12 episodes—the writers took a lot of care to accurately capture that same dynamic on screen.

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The chemistry between Connell and Marianne just jumps off the page and the connection is just as strong in the TV series. Of course with every adaptation, you miss a lot of the internal thoughts and struggles from each character. However the two main actors were brilliant. Connell’s face was so expressive—you could tell that he really wore his heart on his sleeve.  Whereas Marianne had a case of RBF (resting bitch face) and a coldness to her that alienates her from others, except for Connell. This is one of her biggest struggles: because of the lack of warmth she experienced in her own upbringing, it must mean that she is unloveable. She puts up a wall, assuming a passive and submissive identity because she believes thats what she deserves. Connell has to break through that wall to show her that she is loved.

While this was such a close adaptation—one of the best I’ve ever seen—there are of course some differences. The time changes were very clear in the book, where I felt time was more blurry in the show. If you can believe it,  Marianne’s family are even more horrible to her in the book. I really enjoyed what the did with the ending. In the book it’s very open-ended, maybe even a little rushed.  The series gave the characters time to breathe and think about what to do when they come to an impasse in their relationship.

After I finished the series, I immediately wanted to watch the whole thing over again. It was all I could think about. There’s been talk of a possible second season, but when something is so perfectly done, you almost don’t want to touch in fear of ruining such a special thing. It’s like I love it too much.

Have you read the book? Seen the show? Both? Let me know!

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