A distinct memory I have of lockdown (apart from mind-numbing boredom and annoyance) is me devouring Sally Roony’s 2018 novel “Normal People”. To my surprise, it also had a BBC mini-series adaptation of the same name and I gobbled it up too in 2 sittings and I will not shy away from making a definitive statement that both the novel and the series are masterpieces.
Never have I experienced an adaptation so true to the source material. It’s been hailed as the quintessential 21st-century romance as it portrays young love with such accuracy. With its immense popularity amongst book clubs and now the multiple Emmy and golden globe nominations; it’s time for you to watch or read it if you haven’t already. Here are 5 reasons why you should watch normal people:
The titular normal people – Connell and Marianne are played by the extremely talented Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar Jones. We follow them from their school days towards the end of their college years. Set in the quaint town of Sligo, Ireland, we understand that they are bound by the limitations of a small town and a community.
Divided by social class as well as high school hierarchy, these two are classmates. Connell being working class and fitting in with a lot of kids from school and Marianne being upper middle class and being a social outcast loner at school, have their own differences. They sort of share a secret world with each other where this divide dissipates.
Marianne isn’t liked very much in class or at her home so she resorts to being fierce and blunt about how she feels. She’s complex and strong-headed with volition and autonomy yet she has her doubts and insecurities where she falls silent. We don’t just get a stick of a character but she’s flesh and bones and Edgar Jones gives her that; as the character is allowed to breathe.
Connell has that soft yet stern masculinity but he still falls for the slightest of peer pressure and Paul Mescal is a brilliant casting choice. He knows what it’s like to be in a small community where people can be very constricting. He has trouble knowing what he wants since most of his identity has been handed down to him by other people. Rooney masterfully presents the complete spectrum of the human experience, be it love, desire, a sense to belong, anxiety, isolation and alienation.
Chains and bangs
If you were on Instagram last year you might have come across at least one normal people post. Connell sports a dainty silver chain throughout the series and oh boy, is that a phenomenon in itself. There’s a really popular Instagram account by the name ‘connellschain’ that only posts pictures of the lovely Paul Mescal in that chain and he does look absolutely stunning.
It took a lot of mind power to convince myself not to chop off my hair like Marianne. In what I call ‘the lockdown fringe’ phase where every person and their mom started cutting their own hair, it was Daisy Edgar Jones’ beautiful fringe that put me on edge. Marianne’s entire wardrobe is to look out for. You can watch this series if you just want some haircut or outfit inspiration.
Feel the vicarious warmth
The series is directed by Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald, with 6 episodes each and they’re both distinct and have their own voice and vision yet mesh together excellently without creating any distance and confusion(props goes to the editor). The colour palette is full of greys and blues giving a sort of mellow feel.
The cinematography is very personal, having close up shots of the characters while they ponder or just lay about drinking tea, making the audience feel like they’re in the character’s head and this stylistic choice suits well as the book is narrated in the third person. The soundtrack is so beautifully curated. It’s soft and sultry with refreshing sprinklings of Elliot smith, Imogen heap, frank ocean and an array of beautiful tunes.
The songs accord exceptionally well with the soft and delicate piano and triangle, dreamy and ethereal and simply beautiful. Really puts you in a warm vulnerable position.
A promise beyond “forever”
A lot of the themes and undertones encapsulate the feeling of youth and young love. People assume it to be frail and superficial but it can be deeply real and meaningful without being all-consuming. Rooney is aware of the fact that social behaviours affect us and the constraints of our internal worlds can be damaging as well.
Our view of ourselves is developed in our formative, seminal years by the people around us. We see this happening in Marianne where her damaging view of herself stems from her dysfunctional home and how much ever she tries to hide it, it’s obvious to the outside world. “We are the culmination of the people around us”, Rooney says in an interview.
She truly believes in the power people have on each other and that we are capable of making change. Connell’s and Marianne’s love for each other emanates from a sense of admiration. They both constantly call the other the smartest person they’ve met and consider each other irreplaceable in their lives. “It’s not like this with other people” they say.
They mirror each other’s behaviours as they observe each other wandering in the outside world. They show a lot of their vulnerabilities not just by being naked but also by being free. Giving access to a part of themselves that would not have surfaced if the other person didn’t exist.
Redefining normal (spoiler alert)
“He brought her goodness like a gift and now it belongs to her. Meanwhile, his life opens out before him in all directions at once. They’ve done a lot of good for each other. Really, she thinks, really. People can really change one another.” These last words of the novel remind me of the myriad of people who exist, having volition, autonomy, hopes, and dreams.
It reminds me of how they must have got where they are now. We are the culmination of the people around us. We take and we give for good or for bad. We leave some people and we meet new ones. We have our own varied versions of “normal” and happiness and contentment and it brought me a lot of joy to watch these two find comfort and acceptance in each other. You can keep all the good the other person gives you and go ahead with or without them.
After all, all we have is each other.