The book did it better: Normal People by Sally Rooney

Image Credit: Laoise Tarrant

Katie Kilcoyne praises the juxtaposition of Sally Rooney’s simple language with her young, complex characters in her novel, Normal People.

Normal People - a coming-of-age novel and series phenomenon which grasped and subdued the emotions of both readers and viewers throughout the world. The story of Marianne Sheridan and Connell Waldron (played by Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal in the 2020 adaptation) took our breath away as they grappled with social expectations, hierarchies, and the glib realisation of what it means to be ‘normal’. Throughout the globe, people fell in love with the malleable characters hailing from a small town in county Sligo. However, it is the book that grants the reader deeper access into the psyche of the protagonists on their journey of self-discovery. 

Readers observe the relationship between Connell, a victim of internal turmoil for self-loathing, and a detached Marianne, who believes she is unworthy of love, as they find comfort and security in each other’s presence from their encounters in Carricklea to Trinity College Dublin.

The novel creates a more intricate narrative for this relationship. Through a series of monologues and dialogues we, as readers, gain a deeper understanding of the enigmatic elements that make up their thoughts and views; “People used to like me, he feels like saying as a joke”. The simplicity of the language utilised by Rooney creates harrowing images of two individuals who yearn for acceptance within society. This effective technique creates a strong bond between the readers and the characters as it presents Connell and Marianne in a vulnerable light. We are privy to their flaws and most despondent thoughts. Like Connell and Marianne, we too experience the joys of their successes and the lows of their tribulations. 

The viewer is deprived of such an opportunity in the new TV series. Producers cannot afford to hone in on such minor yet crucial details, which, as a result, prevents the protagonists’ relationship from flourishing. The ability for readers to evolve with both Marianne and Connell is exclusively obtained through the captivating language of Rooney. It induces an element of poignancy into the reader's experience, allowing the story to linger with them long after the last page is turned.