Like everyone else I fell in love with Normal People | Breaking down the elements that make the book and tv show so important

"I did used to think that I could read your mind at times, Connell says. In bed you mean. Yeah, Connell says. And afterwards. But maybe that's normal. It's not". 

Now I’m not claiming to have psychic abilities here but I swerved getting a 2020 diary at the beginning of the year and spent a mere £1 on a wall calendar from the Poundshop. I shot down every festival Jay mentioned to me like a swat to a fly (I mean the line-ups were awful for a start so I didn’t feel too bad about that). I had a bad feeling about being too eager to book a holiday to Italy and I quickly slid in a hair appointment a week before my hairdresser and the government deemed it unsafe to work.
 In a similar way early March I picked up two books I’d seen do the rounds quite frequently on Instagram ‘Daisy Jones and the Six’ being one and Sally Rooney's Normal People’ being the other. Two books that fell quite nicely in the 2 for £8 offer on books in Tesco. Having been both influenced by Instagram and swayed by the news that the books were set to be adapted into a tv series I set upon ensuring I read both before the tv release of them, knowing that each would certainly be a hit. Two months later and Normal People has surpassed several viewing figures and has become the most requested programme on Iplayer, make of that what you will. 

 I’ve been eager to write about the TV adaptation of Normal People since well, episode one if I’m honest, but first I want to delve a little into the book beforehand.

 I want to begin by being completely honest, as I drew a close on the end of the book I must admit I wasn’t fully sold on it, now hear me out.
For some reason or another, I just didn’t get it, I didn’t quite understand it. I was left feeling a little emotionally disconnected for a reason I can’t quite put my finger on which is a shame given that I started the book immersed in each and every word, engaged as I read page by page until around midway I found my mind trailing.

Throughout the book, I felt it chopped and changed quite frequently, almost abruptly at times. Skipping ahead, a few months or a few years in advance even. I found it sometimes quite inconsistent and odd in the way it's written. For a start, Sally Rooney doesn't use quotations on speech which makes it difficult to make sense of the conversation at times a factor that after having scanned through a few reviews on Goodreads seemed to echo a similar experience. 

 That’s not to say that I didn’t like the book overall, in fact having now watched the series I'm eager to go back and read it again, this time having a better understanding of the story and its purpose.

The first time around though I found many factors to the book and the storyline that I loved. The first being this curiosity and intrigue to instinctively follow both of their journeys, captured by this constant towing and throwing between Marianne and Connell.

I found myself living beside them for a little while, feeling into every word, every emotion, my feelings for both of them constantly fluctuating throughout being torn between utterly obsessed with their characters to getting lost in their world, right there with them, every heartbeat and every heartbreak. On the other hand, I, at times found myself being completely frustrated and angry with both their communication or lack thereof, being conflicted, not knowing who’s side to take or who I connected with more. 

 What I loved about Normal People however was Sally Rooneys ability to paint the most wonderful atmospheric moments in my mind. With each word I got lost in sketching out pictures in my mind, the room in which the scene took place, the location, the emotions, the characters, the clothing and the facial expressions I could picture it all. So much so I gasped when the kitchen in the house where Marriane resides during college looked the exact way I’d pictured it in my mind, that and the tense table situation in Italy and Connell's heated bedroom where Marianne and Connell both enjoy a rocket lolly as depicted in the series with the football dull in the background. Which could either be down to my newfound psychic abilities here or just that Sally somehow managed to paint a picture so beautifully in her reader's imaginations that it happened to overspill into the vision they have paved for the TV Series which is more than likely the latter (definitely the latter).

Another thing I love about Sally Rooney's writing is that at times in the book I felt as though I was able to read the room without needing any kind of written speech at all. In the same way, some episodes fell in such a way that had this presence, this raw feeling that somehow didn’t need much speech at all in order to have so much to say. 
One of my favourite things about the journey from paper to screen is that they both feel incredibly cosy to read and to watch, both you can easily devour on a gloomy day. The TV series felt of the same nature, it felt familiar, incredibly intimate, soft and beautifully warm.

Two days before I finished the book a trailer was realised for the TV series, a video that very frequently seemed to pop up here, there and everywhere. I tried to avoid it best I could before I made a close on the book, something I did manage to achieve.
So upon finishing the book I headed straight for the trailer and again gasped as I caught sight of Connell, the perfect portrayal of how I hoped he’d look. In the book Marrianne describes Connell more than once to be wearing 'the same Adidas sneakers he wears everywhere' along with other points of reference that refer to him having a sports casual type of attire, something that I particularly like, so that was me sold, now with the infamous chain even more so.

With Marianne, I found it hard to picture her, when I tried to it was more features that stood out in my mind so when I saw Daisy Edgar Jones playing Marrianne I was truly delighted. Rather than frequently describing her features in the book, what it is she is wearing at the time tends to get described a lot more instead which is why it's nice that the TV series follows suit. I think we can all agree that Marianne's wardrobe is a beauty. 

So one thing I wanted to touch on with this series is a little ol' subject being sex, a topic I haven’t had the pleasure of delving into on my blog until now. The puns in that last paragraph were so good.

I’ve always been hesitant in some ways to approach the subject like many, for a fear of not being able to articulate my words correctly or by feeling as though I don’t have enough knowledge to broach the subject but inevitably I thought to myself f**ck it (the puns just keep on coming don’t they).
This year I rather reluctantly turn 25, a big step further into adulthood and like every stem of growth I’ve had in my life I find that it has continually and quite rightly been reflected through my blog. As the grown-up I am (supposedly) I felt it only right to speak about grown-up subjects. Repeating the word grown up here is intentionally trying to make it sink in though it doesn’t seem to be working. 

 Sex is particularly a subject I wanted to approach when speaking about this series because I feel its such a poignant factor throughout.

Now for me, I quite enjoy the little sex scene here and there. I'm never one to shy away from it nor complain about it being there but sometimes when watching a film or a tv series it feels as though it can be written into it for absolutely no reason at all like it's been placed there just to give it the feel that it's adult, or is somehow more interesting.

But for Normal People, it's a crucial part of the story which makes it feel as though there are extra layers to peel which in this series is quite a lot, (more on that later). So if you think the sex scenes in this story aren’t important in order to tell the story, go back and watch them again. With each episode and each segment of their relationship the sex that Marrianne and Connell have says a lot about their sexual evolution for both of their characters. Each time we see a sex scene it is incredibly insightful into the development of their own selves and their relationship, especially when it comes to Marianne.

I have nothing but praise for the sex scenes depicted in Normal People. Every scene felt incredibly raw and exposed, almost awkward and clumsy at times but what I loved about that was not that it was uncomfortable to watch more that it felt real and honest. In particular, the scene I wanted to speak about is when Marianne and Connell first sleep together, more importantly when Marrianne loses her virginity to him.

 *She moans* ‘Do you have a condom?’ ‘Yeah, Is that what you want?’ ‘Yeah’ ‘Ok’ 

 The last words I expected a character to speak on the tv that would inadvertently reduce me to tears but alas amidst time spend in lockdown anything goes really.

 “If you want me to stop or anything, we can obviously stop,” he says. “If it hurts or anything, we can stop. It won’t be awkward.” 

At this point, I fell in love with this show irrevocably.

 Now I’m not disputing that any other tv show or film hasn’t touched on ‘the first time sex'. Sex Education, for example, has hit the nail on the head pretty damn accurate every single time in that sense, a TV series has been incredible for touching on subjects like body image, pregnancy, fetish, STI's and even Vaginismus just to name a few. A sign that over the most recent years we have moved into a more open conversation when it comes to sex and the subjects it surrounds.
So this scene isn't pushing boundaries by any means but what we see is a real and intimate approach to a teens first time, in this case, Marriane's. The reason it bought me to tears, however, was because growing up in my teens, the closest portrayals of people my age having sex were TV shows like Skins, a show I was utterly obsessed with and still would be if I could just forget that the episode with Freddie ever existed dear god please no flashbacks. For me at the time Skins approached sex in such a way that made it look easy, yes like today in TV it addresses several important issues, depression, drugs and suicide, a few storylines covered in each of the generations but for the most part at times it felt almost glamorised. The sex scenes were raunchy and steamy which was actually quite hot but in no way was it relatable or reflective of how sex actually is, something I found particularly damaging and incredibly impressionable when I began to encounter those sorts of experiences in my own life.

 I was none the wiser that sex could hurt, to begin with, or at times feel uncomfortable because I’d never seen it depicted like that, who'd have thought it isn’t as easy as just it slipping in??
How many times have you watched something and seen somebody ask for permission first or, have seen a character ask to put on a condom? For me, I could count it on one hand.

I know that now, as I mentioned before we are moving into a time where those subjects on TV are changing which I think is about bloody time. I can’t help but give high praise to an approach to showing how important it is to engage in safe and consensual sex.

Even when that comes to later in the series when Marrianne engages in a touch of BDSM, we still see her specifically ask to be hit, to be dominated. Something incredibly important where it comes to engaging in this kind of sexual play. In recent years we've been given such scenes depicted in such a glamorised way, silk-clad, paddles, whips and erotic underwear with films like 'Fifty shades of grey' but with this, it's depicted in such a way that makes it feel real. Whilst again echoing this way of telling the story via sexual exploration.

It's not all perfect though, nothing ever is. Just circling back to a few points in regards to a few questionable sexual scenes. The first being 'the first time scene' when Connell asks 'does it hurt?' to which Marrianne replies 'A bit... it's nice'. Something that I feel gave a little bit of a mixed message along with the portrayal of how engaging in BDSM relationships comes from the root of trauma or the need or desire to be 'abused' which is most commonly not the case but as I said nothing is ever perfect.

Still, there are so many elements in this series I love, so many layers to peel. Whether that's Marianne's relationship with her family, the Vile Alan for one or Connell's relationship with his mum, who I think we can all agree on is the real star of the show here, kudos to you Lorraine. Then there are the career paths they both choose to embark upon, the university experience and the friendships (put loosely) they make whilst they are there. 

One of my favourite moments for me, however, is the scene at the swimming pool where Connell wraps his arm around Marrianne and lightly kisses her shoulder, a moment so tender and so soft. A quiet scene yet it somehow manages to speak so loud into this relationship between the two of them. 
Something that played out perfectly both visually and written.

 Amongst the beautiful moments in this series painted with the beauty of the cinematography, I couldn’t write about Normal People without addressing the very heavy and emotionally tagged scene where Connell takes himself to therapy, a step guided by his friend Niall, ah Niall a lovely little treasure he is throughout the series and driven by Connell's friend's suicide. It’s important to acknowledge the weight that bares to drive a scene like that. Again in the same way with sex it creates this open conversation for depression, anxiety and suicide. In this one scene especially it emphasises how important it is for men to talk about their feelings and emotions and most importantly that it's okay to do so. What's so beautiful about this scene is that you feel right there with him, almost holding his hand coaxing him to talk, I've never sobbed the way I did when watching this than I have with anything else. 

 For me, this particular scene feels like a pivotable breakthrough not just for Connell's character but for the series as a whole a moment that sees Connell strip away everything he's wrapped himself in and finds himself opening up and laying himself bare, figuratively speaking, something that by doing so feels so much heavier and weighted to the scenes where we see him quite literally laying himself bare. Again something that brings more praise for those raw moments we see so little in Television, the moments after sex, particularly in episode 5 where Connell and Marrianne lay naked on the bed. Marrianne, says 'It's not like this with other people' to which Connell replies 'I know' whilst they lay draped on one another's bodies. 

 One reoccurring element I keep coming back to both having written this and during watching the series is how real it felt to watch, it's incredibly relatable for one, with moments that most I'm sure could easily picture themselves in or could relate to in some way. Something that made Daisy herself want to be involved in such a story, telling Elle in an article 'I recognize the situation both of these characters are in'

The one aspect I keep circling back to, just to summarise is Normal People's ability to create a portrayal of a relationship that shows it for all its flaws, with all the positives and negatives, the particles that each make a relationship what it is. The communication, the sex, the arguments, their mental health, jobs, career, family and friends all juggled up and thrown into the mix and how after all that who has it made them become? How have they grown? Where do they stand after it all? And yet everything we have seen isn't glamorised whatsoever, an aspect I keep referring to that makes this show what it is, keeps it grounded and most importantly human. 

What's your opinion?

  1. I absolutely loved reading this. I just finished the series and have bought the book to read because I'm just not ready to move on from this story and these characters yet. That first sex scene in the show was the thing that got me hooked too - it somehow made me feel 'normal', I guess. It was real and so alike every clumsy sort of experience I've had. It was nice to feel at home in something like that for once!

  2. Paige this is such a beautiful post!! I’ve just finished watching Normal People and can hands down say I have never fallen in love with two characters like that before, the raw emotion and connection they have, and how easy it is to connect with them as people is incredible!!


@paige rhianne_