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Everyone loves a good binge-worthy series (especially during a global pandemic which causes us all to stay in our houses), and this romance will have you immersed in the world of Normal People from the word ‘go’. The novel by Sally Rooney has been adapted by the BBC into a 12-episode series – each one truly a rollercoaster of emotions – and has been met with an immensely positive response.
The story follows Connell, a popular football player and Marianne, a much less popular feminist schoolgirl. The two have known each other most of their lives as Connell’s mother works as a cleaner for Marianne’s family, and they go to school together. They eventually confess attraction to one another, and the plot goes on to address their complex relationship, exploring the difficulties of love and friendship along the way.
Like with any series I watch, I was both looking forward to and dreading the ending, perhaps the most important part of any story. Without spoiling it too much, I will say that the ending was heart-breaking but had to be done, just as I had expected – every good love story seems to combine romance and tragedy. The good news is, there are rumours that there will be a season 2.
I haven’t read the book, but it is clear that this series is based on one. The subtle aesthetics are beautiful and melancholy, and the characters come straight from a novel (literally). Despite the dreamy colour schemes and gripping plot, the best thing about this series is the themes it addresses: love, of course, but also mental health, class, and family relationships.
Connell and Marianne’s relationship is clearly built on true love, but like with all relationships, they face their challenges. Both characters make mistakes, but more importantly, are able to confess to these mistakes and learn from them. The series accurately portrays young love and how other aspects of life intertwine, whilst giving us a romance that you can’t help but root for.
My favourite part of this series is the way it talks about mental health. Both main characters struggle with mental health issues, but Connell’s story is more prominent. He suffers from anxiety and later depression when one of his best friends commits suicide, and he is able to seek help from others and openly cry to them, particularly in therapy which is recommended to him by a friend.
The scenes in which Connell speaks to a therapist are very moving; he speaks so honestly about his emotions and cries a lot – which is a refreshing image compared to the usual toxic masculinity we see all over the media. I believe that this helps to take the stigma away from having mental health issues and accessing help for them, especially for men. As many of us know, suicide rates are much higher among men than women, so it is essential that men have role models such as Connell who deal with their emotions in a healthy way and are not ashamed of expressing their emotions.
Furthermore, the story subtly addresses issues of class from the outset. An image of Marianne’s large, spacious home in a remote area switches to an image of Connell’s small council house on a busy estate, creating a juxtaposition between the backgrounds of the two. Later in the series, both characters enroll in college in Dublin, where Marianne lives in an expensive house and Connell in a small flat, sharing a bedroom with his friend and working several part-time jobs. What this shows is not only that class does not matter when it comes to love, but also that not everything is how it seems on the outside. Marianne despises her home because it is there that she suffers abuse from her brother, whilst Connell loves his home as he has a loving and supportive mother.
Many things in this series, however, are highly romanticised: college life for these characters seems to be all sipping expensive wine and attending luxurious pool parties, before travelling in Europe in the summer. Perhaps some students do have this experience, but I’m sure most of us would agree that sipping vodka at pres and going on nights out in our trainers is much more realistic (and we wouldn’t have it any other way).
Nevertheless, Normal People is intriguing and honest. The characters are like none I have seen before, it raises important concerns about mental health, and the plot is highly enjoyable.