Drop whatever you’re doing right now, and buy a copy of Sally Rooney’s “Normal People.” This will-they-won’t-they romance is set in northwestern Ireland and tracks the relationship of fictional characters Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan over a period of four years. Starting in January 2011, Connell and Marianne are both finishing up secondary school. They exist on opposite ends of the social spectrum, with Connell being a popular jock and Marianne a universally disliked loner. To make things even more interesting, Connell’s mother is a cleaner for Marianne’s family. Their contrasting levels of popularity combined with their differing socioeconomic backgrounds make them completely incompatible on paper. However, their connection is undeniable. A year passes and the two of them rekindle their bond at Trinity College in Dublin. Their relationship constantly changes from being friends to lovers to strangers for years, but they always manage to find a way back to each other. Rooney does a beautiful job in creating a raw narration of a perfectly imperfect love story.
In 2020, Hulu released a 12-episode series based on the novel. Daisy Edgar-Jones plays Marianne, while Paul Mescal portrays Connell. Although people say that books are always better than their screen adaptations, I don’t think this is necessarily true for “Normal People.” Rather than one being better than the other, they are instead two pieces of the same puzzle. Rooney captures Connell’s and Marianne’s most vulnerable thoughts in the novel. She explains in intense detail their deepest insecurities and passions. In the show, Edgar-Jones and Mescal do a phenomenal job capturing the characters’ essence, chemistry and vulnerability. Their performances, combined with the beautiful scenery and emotional soundtrack, give an all-encompassing understanding of the story Rooney is telling. The series has no narration, just pure, unaltered moments.
In order to fully experience “Normal People,” I suggest that you read the book and then watch the show. Having read the novel first, I felt I saw the words transform into a multimedia piece of art when I watched the show, which gave me a feeling of utmost satisfaction. Had I not started with the book, I would have felt confused and unfulfilled while watching the show. “Normal People” touches on so many societal issues, ranging from domestic abuse to mental health to mob mentality. The story is both lifelike and heart-wrenching, so pick up the book, and when you’re done, press play.