“Normal People”: the main thing about the book, the series and the phenomenon of Sally Rooney
What is this book about
The series is based on the book of the same name by the writer Sally Rooney: the novel Normal People was released in 2018, and you must have heard about it. The plot is not insanely original: the main characters are high school students who have a secret romance, despite the fact that they are very different. Marianne Sheridan is a loner, essentially an outcast among her classmates (although in short descriptions of the series she is often called quiet and shy, in fact she is still far from quiet: she has her own opinion on everything and famously objects to teachers). Connell Waldron is the star of the school’s football team and is popular with the girls. The word "quiet" can be applied rather to him, and not to Marianne: he is smart, but not always able and dares to express his thoughts aloud, and female attention makes him blush.
Images from the series "Normal People"
The difference between the main characters is also social: Connell’s mother works as a cleaner in the house of Marianne’s mother.
The characters start a relationship, but, as often happens with first love, something goes wrong. Eventually, they stop talking, then meet again in college and realize that nothing is over. Well, then we have to observe how the relationship of the characters will develop, how they change themselves and what they will come to in the final. He, by the way, in the series is slightly different from the book, but we can do without spoilers.
The series stars Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones.
The main thing about the author
Irish Sally Rooney can be safely called the literary sensation of the last couple of years. She is 29 and Normal People is only her second novel. The first was released in 2017 and was called Conversations with Friends. It’s amazing what a stir the debutante’s book caused: seven publishers fought for the rights to publish at the auction at once. And the attention of celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker, who enthusiastically announced that she had read the book in a day, guaranteed Conversations with Friends a box office success. In Sally’s first book, it was about a bisexual student and a "love polygon", in which, in addition to the main character, her best friend (she is also an ex-girlfriend), as well as a married couple, turn out to be.
Rooney herself, according to her, could hardly believe in her own success: her debut novel changed her life dramatically, and she earned so much money on it that she could “not work at all for the next couple of years."
Sally is from Castlebar, Ireland. She was educated at Trinity College in Dublin (the heroes of Normal People also study there): she studied political science, but did not graduate, and received a diploma in American literature.
Rooney began writing as a teenager: she says that at first they were "failed novels." But in her student years, her stories were occasionally published by the press. It was thanks to one of these publications that the young writer was noticed: she received an email from a literary agent who asked her to show something from the unpublished. Sally began to finish the draft of the book, which later came out under the title Conversations with Friends. The agent sent the manuscript to publishers – then the already mentioned struggle for a promising author unfolded between them.
What happened next, we already know. In articles about Sally, only a lazy person hasn’t called her the "Salinger of the Snapchat generation" (a term coined by the publisher of her debut novel – a good marketing ploy), "the voice of the millennials" and "Jane Austen of the Instagram days."
Rooney was not limited to one bestseller, and her "Normal People" even before it appeared on the shelves of bookstores was on the long list of the Booker Prize. True, the novel did not make the shortlist, but it was awarded the title of book of the year, collected enthusiastic reviews and took 25th place in The Guardian’s list of the 100 best books of the century! Well, even more high-profile titles rained down on Sally. The New Yorker wrote about her like this:
What is Sally’s secret? Journalists have different versions of this, for example, what Vanity Fair writes:
Sally lives in Dublin with her boyfriend John, who is a math teacher. They started dating while attending Trinity and, as Rooney says, she "didn’t write anything good" before that relationship. The hype around her name, the writer, according to her, is rather frightening:
Why is everyone crazy about the book
Perhaps the reason for the huge popularity of the novel "Normal People" is not even in the plot (there were already thousands of them), but in the fact that the writer made her characters very similar to ourselves and our friends. On the most ordinary people who try to be "normal", and therefore sometimes too dependent on the opinions of others. On people who struggle with their own fears and complexes, who experience communication problems, cannot understand their relationships and who will not be given rest by the echoes of childhood traumas (Marianne confesses to Connell that her dad beat her mom).
Judging by the reviews and comments, what Rooney wrote about and what the series was made about touched the nerves of many, because – well, who among us does not remember his first love, even if it was not very fun? And Sally, perhaps, found a “key” to the hearts of her fans, embodying her favorite female fantasy in her story: about how after a while you appear to the one who offended you once – noticeably prettier, much more popular and no longer lonely. In general, there are many moments here that make readers and viewers associate themselves with the main characters, and this is clearly a hit on the target.
Rooney herself says that often her characters are almost like herself:
The book "Normal People" became not just a hit, but a whole phenomenon. A reviewer for Vox, in an article titled "The Cult of Sally Rooney," says that for several months after the novel’s release, everyone at the events of the book industry was talking about this book. The same publication says that at some point the novel turned into a kind of “Instagram status symbol”: it became fashionable to post a recognizable cover on your account. By the way, Rooney’s book covers seem to be specially designed to look great on Instagram.
The press praised the book – by the way, too. The novel was included, it seems, in absolutely all collections in the spirit of "what to read in quarantine." Literary critic Galina Yuzefovich writes that “Normal People” is “a story about first love, cleansed of everything external, that does not depend on the coronavirus and the country.” Esquire magazine describes the novel as "the perfect example of how to write about love in the 21st century" and calls it "saving reading for millennials." Why is that?
writes literary critic Lisa Birger in an Esquire review.
However, the book has both haters and those who are indifferent, who believe that Sally Rooney’s work is an artificially inflated story by marketers and is not the “new Salinger” at all. “A normal book – and no more”, – you can also find a lot of such comments on the network, as well as reproaches that Rooney has a poor language and flat plots, and her books literally follow all the covenants of the “creative writing” courses.
The fact that a TV series based on the book Normal People became known in May 2019: the British channel BBC Three and the American platform Hulu planned 12 episodes. Sally Rooney set to work as part of the screenwriting team. The directors were Leonard Abrahamson, who directed the five-year-old Oscar-nominated drama Room with Brie Larson, and Hattie McDonald, who previously worked on a number of series.
Filming took place in Ireland – mainly in Dublin and the city of Sligo, where both main characters come from according to the plot. Some scenes were also filmed in Italy and Sweden.
At the end of April 2020, the premiere took place, and it immediately became clear from the interest of the audience that this was a hit: the tape showed the best ratings of all BBC Three projects and gained more than 16 million views on the iPlayer streaming service in the first week alone. Probably, the fact that the show of “Normal People” fell just during the quarantine period, when many sat down to watch the series, also played a role here.
The press doesn’t always praise screen adaptations of popular books, but in this case reviews are mostly positive. The Elle reviewer generally suggests:
The success of Normal People has been compared to the popularity of Luca Guadagnino’s 2017 romantic drama Call Me By Your Name, based on the book by André Aciman. Then the Internet also literally went crazy about both the novel itself and the film adaptation. In both stories there is a lot of romance, sensuality and complex relationships – the difference is only in the sexual orientation of the characters.
Despite good ratings, it cannot be said that absolutely everyone is delighted with Normal People. The main complaint from those who did not like the series is that the story is too melancholic. For some, the film turned out to be boring and drawn out – but here, as they say, the taste and color are already there.
As for the plot, the creators of the television project adapted the book close to the text – it’s not for nothing that Rooney herself is among the screenwriters. We add that even before the premiere of Normal People, BBC Three announced that it would also film the writer’s first novel, Conversations with Friends.
Frankness and sex consultant
A separate topic is frank scenes, of which there are many in the Normal People series, and they are filmed quite realistically. Sex in general plays an important role in Sally Rooney’s novels. Even in her first book, one could find vivid descriptions of "hot" scenes. As the writer says, she tries to write about sex in normal human language, but without going into physiology – so that all this does not resemble pornographic novels, while not sounding too innocent. And Rooney describes such scenes with the utmost honesty: since her heroine has sex for the first time in her life, it is logical that everything happens a little awkwardly. By the way, the publishing house that published Normal People even doubted whether some erotic scenes turned out to be too “shameful”, to which Rooney replied that this is exactly what happens in life at the initial stage of a relationship.
The producers of the film decided that special attention should be paid to such episodes, and entrusted their coordination to an "intimate scene consultant" – yes, there is such a profession on the set and in the theater. This person ensures not only that candid shots are beautifully filmed, but also that during filming everything remains within the bounds of decency and no one violates anyone’s personal boundaries.
As The Guardian wrote, all such moments in the series are carefully thought out by Aita O’Brien, who was responsible for making sure that the actors were comfortable filming. Aita is no stranger to the business, having previously directed intimate scenes in a variety of series, including Netflix’s acclaimed Sex Education. She has been dancing since childhood, and this helps her in her work: as the press writes, staging sex scenes is also a kind of choreography.
O’Brien says that before filming each sexual episode, she spoke with the leading actors:
As a result, the sex scenes turned out to be so hot that a 22-minute cut of them was posted by Pornhub. The producers of the series demanded that the video be removed, as it "is not only a copyright infringement, but, more importantly, disrespect for the actors and crew." The video was removed from the portal, but it managed to scatter on other adult sites.
Many critics attribute the successful selection of actors for the main roles to the merits of the series, despite the fact that the producers did not rely on stars and preferred new faces.
Marianne was played by 22-year-old Daisy Edgar-Jones. The actress grew up in London, her mother is Irish, and her father is Scottish (by the way, not the last person on television is the head of entertainment broadcasting at the British television company Sky). Until recently, Daisy had only a few roles in TV series, more or less noticeable – in last year’s serial fantasy drama "War of the Worlds".
24-year-old Paul Mescal, who played Connell, has almost no filming experience at all, although he has been performing in the theater for several years. The actor has a lot in common with his hero: Paul is also Irish, he was seriously fond of football (until he retired from the sport due to injury) and even studied at the same Trinity College.
Of course, after participating in such a high-profile project, Daisy and Paul became famous literally in an instant and they themselves still cannot believe what happened to them.
Now almost a day does not pass without news about the actors in the world press, and the number of their followers on Instagram is growing rapidly. So, Edgar-Jones already has half a million followers, Mescal has more than 760 thousand.
Despite the quarantine, both managed to shoot for magazine covers and visit the most popular programs. The other day, for example, we got in touch via the Internet with James Corden on the air of his evening show.
Daisy and Paul were supposed to go on a promotional tour, including presenting the series at the Tribeca festival, but the pandemic has changed all plans, so now the actors are in full contact with the press – but only online.
Recently, Interview magazine published not even an interview, but a friendly conversation between Mescal and Edgar-Jones, which they had online at the request of the editors. The actors discussed with each other what it is like to instantly become a star. And they agreed that both did not expect such a violent reaction to the "Normal People".
Paul agrees with a colleague that the sensations are rather strange, and they become even more unusual due to the fact that the success of the series fell on a period of self-isolation:
Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones
Chemistry and chain
As for the relationship between the performers of the main roles, then, according to them, they get along well, but without any romance. And on the set they laughed a lot and, maybe because of this, they didn’t experience much stress because of the explicit scenes.
In real life, Daisy is dating actor Tom Vary, whom you may know from the Game of Thrones series: in the sixth season, he appears as Clay Servin, the head of the Servin house.
Little is known about Paul Mescal’s personal life. “Lonely, it seems,” the press writes hopefully. And the fans, whom the actor immediately had a lot of, besides his account, subscribe to the account … of the silver chain that Connell wears in the series and which suddenly took on a life of its own. Well, what other jewelry has its own Instagram page with 170 thousand followers? Less than a month ago, there were ten times less of them.
By the way, he skillfully took advantage of the unexpected glory of the jewelry and will play it among his fans. Participation in the drawing is paid, and all the funds raised will go to the Pieta Irish Charitable Foundation, which helps those who find themselves in a difficult psychological situation.
As for the on-screen interaction of Paul and Daisy, then the audience and the press are completely delighted. It is unlikely that anyone will question the fact that the actors convincingly play feelings. A critic from The Times wrote that the on-screen chemistry between the characters is "such a powerful chemistry that you might need goggles."
Images from the series "Normal People"
However, even if the "goggles" are not useful to you, "Normal People" is still a high-quality, beautifully filmed series with well-chosen music and a pleasant muted range of colors. Don’t expect a lot of action, but if you don’t mind a calm, slightly melancholy story with some emotional outbursts, you should like it.