Normal People (BBC)

I, like many others at the moment, have spent the past two weeks watching the new BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s brilliant novel, Normal People, and you should too. Since I have already written a review of the book (which you can find here), this post will focus more on how well I felt it translated to the screen, rather than my general thoughts on the story and characters.

I’ll start by saying how much I enjoyed watching this adaptation and I think this may be because it did not deviate very far from the book. The producers of the show clearly understood the success of the novel and that to change too much when adapting it for the screen would not replicate the same success. Instead the subtlety of the novel translates beautifully into the show which brilliantly tows the line between what should go unsaid and informing the audience of just enough for them to connect with the story.

Another favourite aspect of the TV adaptation of mine was the cinematography. This was a beautifully shot show with incredible images of rural Ireland. I think this greatly contributed to allowing for things to go unsaid because the audience was given enough just from a single shot of Connell and Marianne that there was no need for any words.

An interesting choice in the TV adaptation was to soften the character of Marianne’s mother. In the book, Marianne’s mother is depicted as very cold, distant and unfeeling and while this can also be said for the character in the TV show, there are a few scenes between Marianne and her mother that attempt to humanise her. The first instance of this is a conversation between Marianne and her mother about Dublin, as Marianne is about to head to college there and so her mother is sharing her experiences there.

The second instance is later on in the series and a much more fraught interaction about Marianne’s brother’s aggressive behaviour towards her. Marianne blames her mother for not doing anything to stop him and her mother responds by pointing out that there’s nothing she can do; he’s her child and she can’t just throw him out of the house. This interaction seems to alter our perspective of her by humanising her and presenting her as being as much of a victim and as trapped as Marianne, where the book exclusively presents her from Marianne’s perspective as cold and uncaring.

Finally, I want to mention one particular scene that I thought was brilliant; when Connell is talking to his therapist. This scene was incredible to watch because it was completely stripped back, with very simple shots of Connell explaining how he is coping, or rather not coping, with his depression. At this point I will give credit to Paul Mescal for his beautifully raw performance which is particularly clear in a long close up shot focused on his face as he breaks down attempting to express what he is dealing with. The vulnerability captured in this scene is truly impressive.

I think that anyone who loved the book will definitely love this show as it is a brilliantly made adaptation that gets everything right.

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Normal People

Sally Rooney

I’ll start this review by saying that I know I am very behind the times with this book, having not read it about a year or two ago when it first came to the forefront of the book world, but better later than never is a saying for a reason and it is definitely the case here. With the BBC adaptation coming out I decided to finally read Rooney’s normal people before watching it and I am thrilled that I did.

One of my favourite parts of this book was the interplay of the two perspectives. The shifts between Marianne and Connell are not balanced, alternating chapters, which is very interesting to read, primarily because it means we often get both their interpretations of the same events. I found this particularly interesting when Connell ends things with Marianne towards the end of sixth form and how we find out about it from Marianne’s perspective, adding to how abrupt it seems and how little clarity there is over why he chose to do it.

The way in which Rooney is able to convey the nuance and subtlety behind Connell and Marianne’s actions is truly impressive writing. The balance she strikes between concrete words and actions and what goes left unsaid is beautifully struck in a a way that gives just enough insight into the characters of Connell and Marianne but still leaves an air of mystery around their relationship that shows even their limited understanding of their feelings for one another.

This subtlety gave me an appreciation for the notion of love as something to desire and experience rather than something to achieve that runs throughout the novel. The love between Marianne and Connell is never addressed as being long term, it is very much just what they’re experiencing at the time.

I will say, however, that I’m unsure whether or not I like this book but that maybe that’s the point. I think this is a brilliant novel but I can’t claim to have loved it or that it is a favourite of mine. However, I think it is one of the most intelligently written novels I’ve come across that provides an intriguing perspective on love and relationships between young people.

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