Connell and Marianne grew up in the same small town, but the similarities end there. At school, Connell is popular and well liked, while Marianne is a loner. But when the two strike up a conversation—awkward but electrifying—something life changing begins.
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 at university, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. And 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.
Normal People is the story of mutual fascination, friendship and love. It takes us from that first conversation to the years beyond, in the company of two people who try to stay apart but find that they can’t.
It all started with the Hulu adaptation of the show. My husband had heard that it was good and I had heard that it was good, so we found it worthwhile to sit through the same commercial over and over and over again (thanks to the student discount version of Hulu which requires ads and, consequently, a slight loss in brain function) in order to see what all the hoopla was all about. Oh. My. Gosh. Thank goodness we did. We DEVOURED this show. We were 100% consumed by Marianne and Connell’s story which was pleasurable and sweet at first, but emotional and affecting at last. I think it is safe to say we both ended the show a bit traumatized.
After completing the television series I knew I had to read the book. This review will be based on the book but also tainted with the show. Okay, maybe more than just tainted. I’m not sure I have ever encountered a better book-to-television pairing, if I’m being honest. The two work so well together, and I find it difficult to separate them in my head. Despite the confusing nature that this review might take on, it is necessary for me to share my feelings because if I don’t, I might combust. I’M JUST NOT OKAY, OKAY?
“Life is the thing you bring with you inside your own head.”
My very favorite thing about this story is the depth of the characters and the reality in their flaws. Connell especially is someone I found myself relating to frequently in an almost eerie way. After watching the show, I wanted to read the book in hopes of finding out what was going through Connell’s head. I was suspicious that it would be similar to what goes on in my head, and I was right. It feels as though Rooney jumped into my brain, examined my anxiety, and placed it in Connell’s character without me ever knowing. I feel connected to this character on a deep level because the things he experiences and the struggle he has with his own feelings are the same things I have dealt with and still do. From the everyday struggles to the struggles he has when he is at his worst, I can understand Connell because I have been there. And gosh, it is just so nice to encounter a character like this and receive the comforting encouragement that I’m not alone.
“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.”
Marianne’s character has as many, if not more, struggles as Connell, but they are different. I felt bad for her a lot of the time and felt like she deserved someone better than Connell, someone who could easily understand their own feelings and voice them candidly. I like her character more as it is portrayed in the show than I do in the book, and I think that is because in the book we are given this portrait of a girl who is slowly losing confidence in herself and accepting her need to depend on men in what appears to be an extremely unhealthy way. In the show we get glimpses of this, but without the narration of her thoughts and choices we have a harder time understanding her. Upon reflection, I think this may have been one of Rooney’s points: how we appear on the outside is often misleading and sometimes contradictory to who we are on the inside.
“All these years they’ve been like two little plants sharing the same plot of soil, growing around one another, contorting to make room, taking certain unlikely positions.”
I am a fan of the writing in this novel. Rooney depicts the thoughts of these characters with true authenticity, and the scenery and rainy weather may as well have been underrated secondary characters. While I found the writing to be poignant and sharp, there is something lacking. In the show, the actors do a beautiful job of portraying realistic intimacy between the two characters. In the novel, though, this feeling is missing and readers are left to interpret this on their own, which I found to be difficult. Even though we get to know the characters’ inner thoughts more often in the book, the small, intimate relations between the two are often left out. The television show includes these minute details creating an even stronger dynamic. The transformation these characters undergo from novel to screen really is amazing. Well done, so well done. All of the awards go to this show.
I loved the writing and pacing of the book up until the end. It’s almost like the story just takes this risky dive off of a cliff and then splats on the ground and that is it. That’s the ending. Splat. The ending of the show, though, is beautifully done and I dare say, better than the novel. This is one of those rare occasions where I have more beef with a book than I do with the television performance. To me this doesn’t take away from the novel, because we wouldn’t have the show without the novel, but it certainly does comment on the craft of the actors and creators of the show.
It may not be clear from my review because I am highly focused on the differences between novel and show, but I really did enjoy both of these pieces. I have not connected with characters in such a way in a long time, making this experience a breath of fresh air for me. I’m a Normal People fan, forever and ever. I’m off to cry buckets of tears because this is now over for me and Connell isn’t real but I am and I have to deal with me for the rest of my life. Buckets, I tell you.
“It’s not like this with other people, she says. Yeah, he says. I know.”
To see purchase options for Normal People through Amazon, CLICK HERE! And don’t forget to check out the television adaptation on Hulu, a complete masterpiece if I do say so myself.