Friday, 8 May 2020

The New Normal

I read 'Normal People' just over a year ago and loved it. Reviewing it on Goodreads I wrote:

I’d give this book ten stars if I could. Twenty, even. I mean, can a love story be a thriller? Can a tale of two people in love and maybe not quite knowing it be as big a page-turner as the most ridiculous, boys-own adventure?

I’ve seldom been as moved, as involved, as utterly transfixed by a narrative as I was with this. It’s utterly, utterly brilliant! It’s deeply moving. It’s captivating, engaging and hypnotically diverting. And the writing... the writing is sparkling.

That's quite a high bar to set for the TV adaptation. So how did it do?

First, a huge 'five-star, must-see' for the stars Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal who totally inhabit both main characters to the extent that they morphed seamlessly into the ones I had in my head after reading the book (especially Daisy - what an inspired piece of casting that was!). Second, another high five for the adaptation which, given Sally Rooney was herself involved, was always likely to be good. But how do you transfer words like this from the page to the screen?

"Outside her breath rises in a fine mist and the snow keeps falling like a ceaseless repetition of the same infinitesimally small mistake.”

That image of the snow, the delicate flakes falling like a thousand, million mistakes, errors piling up on one another and then freezing, hardening into a pain that seeks permanent expression in a series of unhealthy relationships that themselves only stem from the damaged relationship Marianne (the main character) has with her mother, her brother, and her contemporaries at school, a pain that drives wedge like a knife through the only truly loving relationship she has, the flawed but beautiful story of her relationship with Connell (Paul Mescal), is beyond adapting, surely?

There is snow, of course. Marianne spends her Erasmus year in Sweden and we see her gazing over a frozen landscape. But we also seem to see, somehow, that that's as cold as it's going to get. Snow melts, and...

“He brought her goodness, like a gift,” Rooney writes towards the end of the book, “and it belongs to her.”

To be brutally honest there are maybe just a tad too many tears, a few too many anguished expressions in close-up, for my liking. It reminded me a little of my reaction when I first read "Tess" - there were a few "c'mon man" moments aimed at Connell, just as there'd been with Angel Clare. But such moody close-ups are probably the best you can do on the small (or any size) screen to get a flavour of the inner life that is so easily conjured by Rooney's writing. As an adaptation, it makes fantastic television.

If you've not seen it yet, you've a treat in store.

And if you've not yet read the book you've an even bigger treat.

I envy you both.


Normal People is available on BBC iPlayer now.

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