EVERY publication I have laid eyes on in the past few weeks has been raving about the same thing: the BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People. Reviewers state that the series is the most relatable depiction of teenage romance they have ever seen, that Rooney’s genius has revealed to them parts of their psyche they didn’t even realise existed and swoon over the fictional couple at the centre of the plot. Last week I even found a whole Instagram page dedicated to protagonist Connell’s neck chain. It’s safe to say people have fallen in love with this drama (above).
Intrigued, I started on the series last week and have since watched all 12 half hour episodes. It is certainly a rollercoaster and left me constantly wanting to watch the next episode to discover the fate of the characters. However, by the end of the series, it seemed their fate was nothing much at all. I will admit now that I haven’t read the book so I may be missing some of the story’s depth, but I can’t help wondering where the obsession with this series stems from.
Clearly the show has its merits. After all, it has viewers decidedly hooked. I personally enjoyed the overall aesthetic of the show, felt the acting was spot on and thought it hit the mark in the way it handled the issue of men’s mental health. However what I did not understand was perhaps the most important part of the show—the relationship between central couple Connell and Marianne.
The relationship begins when—having hardly spoken to each other—school-aged Connell and Marianne begin sleeping together. Popular Connell ignores unpopular Marianne in the school corridors and their relationship is strictly secret. Two moody and introverted characters, we hardly see them exchange more than a few sentences with one another. Despite this they are, we are led to believe, deeply in love.
As the series progresses, the couple’s on-off relationship becomes increasingly frustrating due to this odd and persistent lack of communication. Throughout the show we see Marianne’s heartbreaking relationship with her dysfunctional family, who undermine her at every opportunity. Despite the huge burden this has on her, she fails to mention this to Connell until literally years into their relationship.
Meanwhile, Connell is having his confidence regularly knocked as he submits several pieces of writing to magazines which are continually rejected. Despite this bringing him down and causing him to be short with Marianne at times, he doesn’t mention a word of this to her.
But the peak of this frustration with the couple’s fatal lack of communication occurs when Connell loses his job and can no longer afford his rent. Rather than explaining the circumstances to Marianne, he simply tells her he won’t be staying in Dublin, where the couple both live, for the summer. Marianne responds: “You’re going home then?” to which Connell replies: “I guess you’ll want to see other people?”
This scene leads to the most unconvincing break up of all time, literally without another word spoken between the two. No discussion of why Connell is being forced to leave Dublin and how he could overcome this, or how the couple could survive their 10-week long summer living a few hours apart.
I can’t be the only person to have watched this and asked, in what world would this ever occur? After replaying the scene a few times to ensure I hadn’t missed something, I very nearly gave up on the show. However, clicking onto the next episode, I eagerly readied myself for a shot of Connell running back to Marianne, declaring he could not live without her. But no, this scene paved the way for the inevitable fate of this most frustrating and unrealistic romance.
Despite the fact that the couple are apparently deeply in love, they just can’t seem to make it work. While their relationship was distinctly odd, I did become invested in it and was truly rooting for them. This however just made it all the more frustrating to watch them continually fall at the most unnecessary hurdles. Above all, I felt this was a most unrealistic and unrelatable depiction of romance. These are far from normal people.
Mairi Hughes is a Journalist and Creative Writer