Read on to find out what I thought about the popular new work by Sally Rooney, Normal People – the book and the series. Or if you’d rather just watch the video, check this out!
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.
First Impressions for NORMAL PEOPLE: book vs the series
The first impression I got from the book was that the author informs us simply of what has been happening, and what the characters feel. But then, I quickly realized that it was not indeed so – because along with the protagonists, the reader also introspects and philosophizes with them, essentially moving closer to the question of ‘normality’ in relation to human relationships.
This is one of the best adaptations ever. It was just so visually stunning. I was in love with the cinematography, the actors, and the utter depth of emotions they portrayed so well.
Significance of the title: Normal People
I believe that the title of the book is a paradox. On the one hand, it tells us that it is about normal people that society is filled with, for instance, Marianne and Connell’s friends, as opposed to them both who are weird. But when we look at it from that perspective, we see that it is not really so. Because, when together, Marianne and Connell are ‘normal’ with each other. As such this implies that in the way they different or weird from others, it is a degree of measurement which affects every individual of society – perhaps many of these hide it better and assimilate easily compared to the protagonists. Thus, who are normal people? Everyone and no one, both at the same time.
What I disliked about Normal People, the book:
- I feel that perhaps the way in which the story has been written sheds Connell in a much more negative light than it does Marianne as if he deliberately and continually turns to hurt Marianne. He is shown as someone on whom lies the course of the relationship if one could even call it that. Whatever it was, I think that in this regard, the author may have done Connell an injustice in the way he was portrayed. Bringing about the mental health angle seemed like a convenient excuse for that.
- Once Marianne tells Connell towards the middle, “You’re definitely drunk if you’re flirting with me.” The idea that Marianne now inevitably thinks that Connell has to be drunk to flirt with her, as if he wouldn’t do something like that (he doesn’t) when he is sober, does not sit well with me. Why does he so need alcohol to lower his inhibitions with her?
- As for Marianne, I believe that the author could have let us know a bit more about her family life – to show why she is the way she is. Her family is not the best – she has an abusive brother who hits her (“sometimes”) and who is continually passive-aggressive, tormenting her emotionally and psychologically. The mother is no better, to be honest. When Alan, her brother spits on her face, the mother fails to reprimand her wayward son and instead questions Marianne how she could deal with the real world outside when she could not deal with “a little sibling rivalry”. She then continues to mock her saying, “You think you are special, do you?”
The writing style and narrative structure of Sally Rooney
- As Rooney describes the scenes, the reader gets spectacular imagery as if a literary montage.
- I feel like the book solely relies on emotion and catharsis it can erupt in the reader.
- There are narrative skips and jumps, meaning that the timeline is not really linear. In the beginning, these jumps are not between very different stages, but as we move further into the narrative, these jumps are considerably disconnected as if snippets of memory that assault the protagonists as they live their life, characteristic of the modern fragmented soul, inevitably coming closer and closer to each other.
- The story is also written in a rather episodic format, and now that I look back and introspect, this is how we humans, ‘normal people’ like us look back and retrospect.
Important themes in the book
- Isolation/detachment/aimlessness – there is a sense of detachment which is weird but then so reflective of normal modern society. Marianne feels that she is not part of the life in Carricklea.
- “Really she has everything going on for her. She has no idea what she’s going to do with her life.”
- The lack of rootedness/a sense of not belonging/transience –
- “Marianne had the sense that her real-life was happening somewhere very far away, happening without her, and she didn’t know if she would ever find out where it was and become part of it.”
- Connell really thinks of the transient nature of things when he is on the Europe trip. I was really reminded of Holden Caulfield at this point and how he was absolutely disgusted with phoniness.
- Originality as something deviant of ‘normal’ behavior –
- Marianne appreciates beauty in its raw and primal form when she wants to see Connell having sex.
- Connell is originally unwilling to let others know about his ‘relationship’ with Marianne because since she was not considered a ‘normal’ person in their circle, any association with her would taint him as ‘weird’ like her, and not a normal person, something that Connell desperately wants.
- “Do we ever say what we mean?”
- Identity – The imposter syndrome was brought in well, in this aspect. As Connell grapples with his identity in college, the threader also starts to question these issues that plague all humans.
- Stability – In the beginning, I also feel that both these characters, as actual human beings with relation to each other, are lacking in conviction. Why cannot they assert and say that they want something rather than saying, and I quote from the book, “Say you want me to stay and I will”.
- Then, I feel like Connell truly feels stability when he rescues Marianne from Alan and then confronts him, threatening to kill him if he ever hurt Marianne again. That is the point of change for him, I believe and he starts to work on himself, truly. He is really open to her at the moment.
- “Trust me. I love you, I’m not going to let anything like that happen to you again.”
The excellence of the series!
- I loved the Italian countryside the most. The reflections on the pool as Connell calmed Marianne after the fight with Jamie was also stunning.
- I think that the book is also a very emotional one and the series has done fantastic in that it was able to bring onto screen those emotions. I did not cry when I read the book but I sobbed while I watched the grand acting of these two actors.
- The subtle changes that were in the series (from the novel) just made it more heart-wrenching. The way Connell was kind of a passive person who went with the flow and denied his relationship with Marianne was again heart wrenching on screen.
- Also the way Connell sobbed after the Debs party – that just got to me.
- Moreover, in the book Marianne never really says ‘I love you’ to Connell (in the series she does), and so you have to ask who is the more repressed person here.
- The portrayal of when Connell was disgusted with the phoniness of university students who do not read the books but act as if they have, was also on point. This bit was better portrayed on the show. The imposter syndrome stuff was done well here.
- The series also delves more into the mental health issues of Connell and the deplorable family conditions and relationships of Marianne – the abuse and everything.
- Regarding Marianne’s trauma (from the abuse she has suffered at the hands of her brother), she has come to believe that she deserves the bad treatment she often gets. In this context, I do have to say that the overlap that was done in the series – Lukas and her in the photoshoot session, while Connell reads his email in the background about what he thinks about this – that just because bad things may have happened to her, doesn’t mean that she deserves them, was very insightful and amazing. Something that the book was unable to do.
- The disconnect from life was shown very aesthetically via the slow sequences, for Marianne and Connell.
- The series also did well with the portrayal of other characters especially that of Niall and Lorraine.
- The series also better explored the character of Niall. In the book, I honestly didn’t care about him enough – he just wasn’t there enough.
- The mother-son dynamic was awesome in the book and it was just as awesome in the series. I loved it.
The end of the book left me dissatisfied because it felt like they had not learned a lesson that they need to communicate! Instead, Marianne just pushes Connell away yet again yet simply telling him that she loves him.
In this regard, I think that the series does better. It establishes the two characters as two individuals on their own, yet with an undeniable need and want for each other. They are bound forever and in a way, they are in this healthy relationship that shows them their value based on their individual selves. In a way, it is a new beginning for them.
- I rated Normal People, the book, 3/5 stars!
- I rated Normal People, the series, 4.5/5 stars!
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