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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

‘Normal People’ romanticizes the intricacies of everyday relationships

Sally Rooney’s characters come to life on both the pages of the novel and the TV screen


By ANA BACH — arts@theaggie.org


Sally Rooney’s gripping novel “Normal People” has taken the world by storm. In addition to the book, the show’s television adaptation starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal blossoms on screen, bringing the story to life. 

For those who are unfamiliar, the story follows two high schoolers in Ireland who come from seemingly different worlds. Marianne, played by Edgar-Jones in the Hulu series, comes from an affluent background, while Connell, played by Mescal, comes from a single-parent household. The two originally meet because Connell’s mother works as a maid for Marianne’s family. 

The story distinguishes itself from a narrative that relies solely on class disparities to determine the social hierarchy of a show’s characters, though. Viewers see a role reversal among the star-crossed lovers. Connell is on the rugby team, deemed attractive and sociable and has many friends. Marianne, on the other hand, ostracizes herself from her peers. Most of the time, she has her head in a book to avoid conversations with her classmates, whom she tends to find dull. 

Despite their differences, the two find comfort in each other — and both Rooney’s novel and its television adaptation emphasize that this comfort isn’t purely physical. With every step they take towards a more physically intimate relationship, Connell and Marriane also move towards a more emotionally fulfilling connection. 

When the pair has sex for the first time, the moments that detail them undressing each other prior are portrayed as an endearing testament to their mutual feelings rather than just their physical attraction to one another. In the book, this scene is described more intimately than the actual sex, and Mescal and Edgar-Jones’s portrayal of the scene in the show captures those same feelings of gentleness and instant comfort. Their emotional bond creates a newfound beauty in how they view one another that surpasses the bodily closeness that sex provides. They seem aware that they are about to embark on a raw, emotionally intimate experience with one another.

Both the novel and the show emphasize the theme of communication in Connell and Marianne’s relationship. Their ability to connect with one another feels natural and seems to require little effort. Ultimately, however, the differences in their upbringing are responsible for the conflicts they face later in their relationship. 

One example of this occurs when the two discuss their college plans shortly after they start seeing each other. Marianne is convinced that Connell should attend Trinity College based on his interests in English — coincidentally, she is also planning on going there. Connell responds and says, “Then we would be in college, and I bet you would pretend to not know me.” In both the novel and the show, Marianne looks at him perplexed and says, “I would never pretend to not know you, Connell.” 

Ultimately, the two both end up at Trinity after not being in contact for a while. In college,  Marianne is thriving (both socially and academically) while Connell is struggling to find where he fits in. Attempting to get more socially acclimated, Connell attends a party with one of his friends from class, where he is reintroduced to Marianne. Instead of choosing to act as if she does not know him, Marianne instantly welcomes him amongst her friend group, knowing that he did not do the same for her when they were in high school. 

It’s beautiful to see that the potential of their relationship still exists at Trinity despite all of the trouble they have been through, and the show captures this moment almost exactly as the book describes it. 

Normal People” speaks to the younger generation through its depiction of mental health struggles, social pressures and the miscommunications that are so common within our relationships. Both the book and the show provide a realistic representation of these issues that readers and viewers alike can identify with. Perhaps the title says it best: “Normal People” romanticizes the interactions and relationships that all of us normal people experience, allowing us to resonate with the characters and grant ourselves the same grace that we give them. 


Written by: Ana Bach — arts@theaggie.org