As with a lot of people in the UK, I started to watch Normal People on the BBC and loved the series. So, as all good book nerds do, I got the ebook (maybe not such a good book nerd!) version and read it. I usually think the book is better than the TV/Movie adaptation (Harry Potter, Divergent etc) but I was surprised this time… (cliffhanger!)
We come to 2010s Ireland (as if that is a thing!) and meet our protagonists, Connell and Marianne. As an aside, it never occured to me that Connell was a first name but of course it is… O’Connell literally means Son of Connell so makes sense Connell is a first name! Marianne is the weird, smart loner at school and Connell the handsome jock. As it seems with teenage high school, they start to sleep together and Connell doesn’t want his friends to know so tells Marianne to keep quiet about it all, to which she agrees. However, love gets in the way of this and she is very hurt when Connell decides to take another girl to the Debs instead of Marianne. Connell’s Mum is excellent here when she finds out. She is rightly aghast that her son has been sleeping with Marianne and then just so casually takes someone else to the Debs.
We skip to the college years and discover that Connell and Marianne are at the same one, Trinity in Dublin, and that they haven’t spoke since that decision of Connell’s. As with all good teen stories, the person Connell talks to at class and whose party he is invited to is also the now boyfriend of Marianne.
We go through the next three years of the college life, through the ups and downs and their on and off again relationship.
I really did like the BBC version and Rooney was one of the writers for the tv series and it shows with how close to the story line it sticks too. However, there are subtle tweaks to the TV adaptation, almost like Rooney has a second chance at it and I think these little tweaks make the story better. Not often the writer of the book is also the script adaptor (there are a few notable exceptions) and I think this is the key difference.
Connell’s mental health issues of anxiety and depression I think are done well and I wish Marianne could also be helped in a similar way. While BDSM relationships when done safely and with trust and communication are obviously fine and power to those that follow it, Marianne is obviously in these types of relationships because of her own poor self-worth and family background. I feel that she should also be seeking counselling and once she is appreciative of herself after and still wants that type of relationship then that is all fine but to use it confirm her worthlessness about her is just abusive.
One of my main bugbears was the lack of quotation marks! It is obviously a Sally Rooney style as one of her Connell and Marianne short stories in a magazine are the same but with internal monologue and external speech happening for both Marianne and Connell it would have helped with the reading of it.
Overall a good read and a great TV adaptation. I’d give the book 7/10 and the TV series 8.5/10.