By Panagiota Katsaveli,
In TV shows and movies there is a usual pattern of the portrayal of a young couple in love in which the two partners are instantly eager to be open and share their deepest secrets with their significant other. This depiction of human romantic relationships is unrealistic and sets the standards too high for viewers. Hence, the TV series “Normal People”, based on the book with the same title, has come into the picture to give a different perspective to the preexisting stereotype of relationships; the author manages to showcase how our individual insecurities and damages combined with a lack of communication can lead to a troubling relationship filled with love and continuous up-and-downs.
“Normal People” is a mini TV-series developed by Hulu as an adaptation of Sally Rooney’s best-selling novel of the same name. The story follows Marianne and Connell, two young people from the same Irish town with completely different backgrounds, as they weave in and out of each other’s romantic lives in an attempt to display the hardships of intimacy and love at a young age. Both protagonists are perplexing, multilayered characters who permit their dark, inward reality to intervene in their mutual relationship and they avoid being transparent with one another, going through the confusing stages of life that high school and college constitute.
The female protagonist of the series, Marianne, is a rather complex personality with a dark past hunting her. Marianne grew up in a house with an abusive father, a mother who is no more than a shell of a person unable to even stand up to her own son (probably a result of the abuse she endured from her own husband) and a brother who is a bully making her life a living nightmare -probably resembling the behavior shown of their father. No one in her household gave her anything remotely akin to love or support growing up; she was entirely on her own from a young age and was forced to rely on herself for the fulfillment of her emotional needs. She blossomed at university since she got away from her dreadful family life and started to figure out her identity. For the most part she knows what she wants and has no problem going after it. However, her past and her family refuse to give her a fair chance at a new, free and happy reality and instead they repeatedly try to hold her back, achieving that desirable outcome at times. The character is portrayed by the actress Daisy Edgar-Jones who delivered an incredibly touching and realistic performance; the actress managed to land a nomination for the 2021 Golden Globes Awards which she surely deserves!
The male protagonist named Connell is another complex personality who had the privilege to enjoy a supporting family environment but was held back by his own insecurities. Connell is shy and anxious, afraid to voice his thoughts and opinions for fear of upsetting the status quo or alienating his friends, but the possible negative consequences exist mostly in his head. University is a difficult, challenging experience for him because he has lost his identity as the popular footballer and cannot seem to figure out where he belongs in a wider, more diverse social setting which basically demands students to be confident and outspoken (two things he has yet to master). His insecurities and his refusal to challenge his comfort zone are keeping him behind and delaying his progress even though he has much talent to exploit. Moreover, at times when he reaches a really low point in his life psychologically speaking, he seeks support in the face of Marianne who is the sole person keeping him sane, so he is often dependent on others to achieve mental stability. Connell is portrayed by the talented Irish actor Paul Mescal who received a nomination in the Best Actor in Movie/TV series category for his role.
The two main characters as a couple are a difficult pair because of all their baggage mentioned above. Connell feels inadequate because he does not fit in in Marianne’s world since she and her social circle come from wealthy families, have traveled and seem more worldly and sophisticated than him. They both seem to experience an all-consuming love/desire for one another, but Marianne’s family life -or rather lack thereof- has left her with a void inside her that she seems in need of filling with an all-consuming love, which clearly overwhelms Connell. Neither of them is ready for such an intense relationship and for the feelings that come along with it, especially Connell. Marianne could probably handle it better because she seems to know her own mind and has more confidence that Connell lacks, but her tendency to do anything to please him shows how toxic the relationship could become for her. Connell cannot handle her emotions because he is still figuring out his individual identity and needs, making it difficult to give himself completely to someone as outspoken about their desires. Connell, in addition, is able to verbalize his love for Marianne while she cannot -his close, loving relationship with his mother makes this easier for him, while the lack of love and caring in Marianne’s family makes it difficult for her to verbalize her feelings. All these elements showcase just how complex human relationships can be, how much understanding they require, and that unconditional love is not always enough to ensure a lasting healthy relationship between individuals.
Now, it would be appropriate to mention some facts about the brilliant woman who wrote the book “Normal People” on which the TV show is based as well as adapted the story for the small screen: Sally Rooney. Sally Rooney was born on February 20th, 1991 and is a writer from Castlebar, County Mayo, West Ireland. She acquired her degrees in English and American Literature from Trinity College in Dublin where she currently resides. She was awarded the 2017 Sunday Times/Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award. Rooney’s debut novel “Conversations with Friends” was published in 2017 and the following year her second novel “Normal People” was published; it became a bestseller, it won a variety of major awards and it was named the Waterstones Book of the Year (2018). Following the success of her second novel in the small screen, “Conversations with Friends” will also be turned into a mini-series with the same production team. Lastly, Sally Rooney is going to publish her third novel in September 2021 called “Beautiful World, Where Are You”, a book examining aesthetics and political issues.
All in all, the mini-series “Normal People” based on Sally Rooney’s novel offers a unique perspective into romantic relationships and love that connects two people yet still keeps them apart from one another. This story goes to show that besides love, other variables can result in an unsuccessful love affair and our individual dark sides are part of us affecting the relationships we form. The story of Marianne and Connell is a more accurate and realistic description of a human relationship and showcases the difficulties that hinder communication between human beings in our modern society. Most importantly, it depicts the development of a teenage love affair into a deep and long-lasting relationship which constitutes the first time the protagonists experience the feeling of love.
- Literature British Council, Sally Rooney. Available here.
- Vulture, Normal People Is An Honest, Absorbing Love Story. Available here.