Here’s Why Sally Rooney’s Normal People is Not Just a Love Story

Daisy Edgar-Jones & Paul Mescal in Normal People

This is an essay on Sally Rooney’s treatment of young, achingly real love and relationships in Normal People, which has been adapted into a very popular TV show starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal.

Marianne and Connell, the enigmatic protagonists of the more-than-ordinary romance by Sally Rooney, Normal People, have enchanted readers and watchers worldwide, becoming icons of raw, unfiltered expression. Since 2018, the novel has sold more than three million copies and has made it to reading lists from Taylor Swift to Barack Obama. The quick BBC adaptation from 2020 has been streamed more than 62 million times and made Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal, its two stars, beloved household names. So what is it about Normal People that makes it so enchanting, so exciting? We’ll explore exactly that in this essay.

As we embarked on our own journey through the story, having first devoured the book and then the television series, we discovered that Normal People isn’t your typical whirlwind romance that keeps you guessing oh-so-ever whether the two star-crossed lovers will ever unite – no, while the narrative is a bit unconventional [now typical of Rooney], the overall writing is relatable, entirely plausible, and achingly real. So, let’s try to understand why the story is not just a love story but an overarching exploration of life’s complexities itself.

Plot Synopsis of Sally Rooney’s Normal People

The book is a journey into the largely tumultuous, pretty scintillating relationship between Marianne Sheridan and Connell Waldron, two teenagers from Ireland who could not be more different from each other at the outset. Coming from contrasting social backgrounds, Connell is an athletic young man, while Marianne is intelligent but awkward and aloof. Despite their outward disparity, they share a secret connection – Connell’s mother is a cleaner at Marianne’s house. This connection, displayed as a delicate discomfort to the readers, sparks an unlikely and intense romance. 

As their relationship evolves, their roles in their respective strata of social hierarchy become increasingly complicated. Connell’s insecurity about his place in his football team, his clinical depression after his best friend’s death, and his desire to fit in lead him to keep their affair a secret. This decision of his deeply affects Marianne, who, despite being a self-assured and self-aware student, grapples with loneliness and a difficult family life back home.

As they struggle to make up and break up from time to time, depending on the situation and the various factors that come their way, they try their best to communicate and navigate the challenges of growing up and coming onto their own. They end up attending the same university after school, thus allowing the relationship to persist, but still fraught with palpable tension. Throughout the novel, Sally Rooney explores themes of power dynamics, class, mental health, and the complexity of both human conditions and human relationships.

Unravelling Young Love: Realism and Character Depth in Normal People

Stories of young love, more often than not, tend to depict idealised romances – sweet childhood love, which only blooms as the characters age, where they approach novel feelings of love and infatuation with confidence unbeknownst to even adults in today’s world. However, Rooney’s Normal People offers readers an honest portrayal of the various layers of young love, unravelling a narrative that resonates with the awkward mistakes and imperfections that define a teenage romance. 

Marianna and Connell, like many adolescents, fumble through their emotions and grapple with insecurities, jealousy, and the fear of rejection. They keep making mistakes, being scared of admitting how they really feel, and cloud their decision-making with uncertainty, often from within their own heads. Throughout the book, their inability to communicate wholly and effectively is a recurring theme – they are unable to articulate their exact feelings, which leads to anguish for both the characters and readers alike. You can’t help but recognise yourself in their hesitation and hopes for a real connection and their sharing of vulnerabilities.

The story refuses to conform to cliched tropes. Marianne and Connell are unpolished and far-from-picture-perfect leads. They are deeply flawed individuals, making questionable decisions under peer pressure, almost too painful to watch. As their young love unfolds and grows into a mature understanding of individualistic expressions, you can’t help but reflect on the bittersweet memories that you are sure to have experienced during your formative years.

TV Adaptation of Normal People: Subtle Communication and Internal Conflict

While the novel expertly delves into young love and its myriad complexities, the BBC television adaptation takes it to new heights with an emphasis on non-verbal communication, visual cues, and intimate cinematography. The series amplifies the passionate anguish and internal conflict that simmer underneath the surface, making you feel every pinch of it.

Highlighting the unspoken moments between characters, the series doesn’t solely rely on dialogue. The series may not compare with something like the iconic hand flex of Mr Darcy from the Pride and Prejudice movie [2005], but the scenes still allow viewers to connect with the actors on a profound level – it is visual storytelling at its best. The cameras employ close-up shots and zoomed-in frames from time to time to capture the raw intensity of the emotions lurking. When Marianne and Connell share an intimate moment, for example, the camera brings us impossibly close, as if we are intruding on their most private thoughts and desires, almost as if you are invited to be part of the story rather than just a viewer. The characters’ uneasy hand gestures, anxious pacing, and profound sighs ensure that none of the feelings are lost in translation.

All in all, the TV adaptation elevates the book’s most essential themes and skilfully conveys a way of immersion for a vivid and unforgettable viewing experience.

Also Read: ‘Normal People’ is Toxicity wrapped in Western Melancholy, cleverly disguised as an absorbing story 

Side Characters and Family Life in the Story

Not only is the book skilled in its portrayal of the two young lovers’ bond, but it also has a nuanced approach to the side characters that make up a holistic storyline, influencing each other’s roles and shaping each other’s characters and arc. The friends and acquaintances have intricate personalities that push the author’s flair for presenting multiple viewpoints in a story, and help the characters receive directions and understand the social dynamics at play. 

Marianne’s family is a crucial element in her development as a person – they provide insight into her self-destructive tendencies and why she pushes away people. For Connell, his friends play the role of both a support system as well as a shell that he needs to break out of. Among themselves, the characters are revealed to have their own web of complications that they are still struggling to make their way through. By giving enough attention to characters across the book, Rooney enriches the storytelling and provides a more comprehensive understanding of the world they inhabit, making it more emotionally resonant.

Conclusion: Normal People is Not Just a Love Story

At last, the book Normal People stands out as a testament to powerful writing – the plot itself may not be as important – but it transcends the boundaries of conventional romance. The characters grow up, you grow up, and the maturity grows on you. It reminds you that love is nothing but a multicolored thread in the interwoven fabric of our lives, and its complexities often intertwine with other threads, i.e., other significant aspects of our existence.

With its interspersed sections on mental health, current affairs, pursuit of professional ambitions, it has become a sort of signature style of writing for Sally Rooney, now known for her multiple award-winning novels that follow just the same style for you to know it’s Rooney, but just differ in tone and conversation that you know you’ve picked up another poetic, emotionally-charged book. Her writing reminds you that life is messy and disorganized but also beautiful and an ever-evolving journey, and we are all in for the ride.

I urge you to pick up Normal People or any other book by Sally Rooney book to grow an appreciation for the emotional authenticity of your own life.

By the Same Author: Poetry in Verse: Exploring the Themes of Longing and Loss in Call Me By Your Name 


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