Why not share your thoughts and views? Let's all give ourselves some much needed distraction and catharsis.
For anyone unfamiliar, Normal People is the TV adaption of Sally Rooney's award-winning novel of the same name, that premiered on BBC and RTE this week. It centers on the lives of two young Irish secondary level students, who, despite all, and despite their innumerable differences, begin an intense relationship. While it may sound all very unspectacular and predictable, the book's psychological depth and the author's ability to create very troubled characters who are also convincing and believable, painfully neurotic but painfully 'normal', made it so much more than a simple love story. So, does the TV adaptation achieve something similar?
I did find the Connell in the book (he is played by Paul Mescal in the adaptation) a little colder, crueler even, and this was what made the book so bracing and convincing for me. Whenever he succeeded in resisting his baser instincts, when he wasn't cruel, when he didn't become just another bully, you instantly respect him, you feel there is something noble in him.
While I have only watched two episodes, I find the television Connell a good deal more wholesome,and therefore not as fraught with internal conflict. When he is kind, you feel it is his natural self braking through, and his coldness can be reassuringly attributed to the manipulative and highly neurotic culture of an Irish secondary school; in the book, Connell's cold streak read more like it was something natural and essential to him.
I reckon it is a very hard book to adapt, and therefore all credit to director Lenny Abrahamson. It is a book of internal monologues, the interest and the drama is entirely in the characters' heads, and this is of course much harder to achieve in the visual medium; you have to rely entirely on dialogue or the actual scenes you situate the characters in.
I think the director's laudable loyalty to the original could also cost him. When he adapted Kevin Power's Bad Day in Blackrock (What Richard Did) he considerably departed from the original book, assimilated it for the screen, and the results were splendid.
The closing scene, which sees Richard and his rugby mates huddle together to chant their anthem, a song that celebrates brotherhood and camaraderie even though the people singing it have covered up the murder of a friend and fellow player, was cinema doing what it should do; making a culture manifest in a dramatic scene. I found it almost John B Keane-esque in its zeitgeist-capturing poignancy!
I am not going to pre-judge and I found the TV adaptation engrossing, but there is nothing quite like a mixed-school in rural Ireland. They have entirely different power dynamics than, for example, the Dublin all-male private school that the protagonist of What Richard Did attended.
With all that taken into consideration, is it worth watching? Most certainly; Abrahamson's camera is as kind, searing and unflinchingly truthful as Rooney's subtle and delicate prose.The author's ability to laden seemingly everyday and banal situations with underlying dramatic tension is faithfully translated onto the screen; the fact that Connell's mother, Lorraine, works for Marianne's wealthy family as a housekeeper succeeds in considerably heightening the unsaid tension, loads Connell with a class insecurity that compounds his already existing insecurities. The result, in the book at least, was Ireland's petty cruelties and hypocrisies were laid bare, but with an almost anti-dramatic, anti-theatrical realism; through characters that are painfully neurotic but also painfully normal. Based on the first two episodes, there is every indication that the TV series will achieve something similar.