Sunday 10 May 2020

The Normal People Phenomenon (Part 2 - The TV Series)

So, diligent as ever, your humble correspondent is happy to report that he has now worked through the 12 half-hour episodes of the TV version of Normal People, and here is my informed report. 

Gasp! I think it is about ten times better than the novel on which it is based. Why? Mostly because ALL the characters are fuller and more rounded, and there was at least marginally more motivation for their behaviour. The biggest case in point being Denise, Marianne’s mother, who, while still far from being a rounded out character, as least expresses some sense of frustration with the problems of her situation. On the other hand, imagine having a mother like Connell’s Mum, Lorraine: wouldn’t that be nice? 

The whole piece is characterised by the nervousness, tension and self-consciousness of the two leads, which spreads to almost everyone else. For some reason, this works better on screen with actors doing the emoting, rather than in the frequently (and perhaps deliberately) stilted prose of the novel. Largely eschewing description as Rooney does (except for making cups of coffee), places too are more THERE on screen than in the novel. I visualised Marianne’s Dublin apartment as a one bed thrown up during the Celtic Tiger rampage. Strange to see it recast as a well-appointed and ample residence on Wellington Road.  

But what does it mean when the TV adaptation of a novel is ten times better than the novel itself? There are more writers (Alice Birch and Mark O’Rowe mostly, I believe, with Rooney helping out here and there). It’s like they managed to join all the dots that Rooney couldn’t in her book, which was really just a blueprint, or first draft. Looking back at what I wrote about the novel in Part 1, it’s odd that a responsible editor (or the editor responsible) didn’t take Rooney aside in the first place and highlight some of the problems I highlighted and make some of the suggestions that I made. It could have been so much better.

As for the sex, and the furore created by Liveline’s faithful audience (aka, the clodhopping, retarded, braindead rednecks of Middle Ireland), and their “It’s like something you’d see in a porno.” Well, take my word for it, it isn’t. It’s delicate, nuanced, and entirely in keeping with the characters’ emotional state at the time. I can only conclude that complainants are the kind of people who think that sex is just dirty anyway (unless it is being done by married couples for the purposes of procreation). It’s kind of sad that they still exist.

A few more stray observations: 

·      I still think the plot pivot about him being too embarrassed to ask her if he could stay in her flat for the summer because he’s lost his job – just so that they can break up – is really, really, really weak. I mean, they’re fucking like bunny rabbits and they’re passing up an idyll like that? All just so the narrative can separate them again? I’m not having it.

·      Ditto Marianne coming back from Sweden for Rob’s funeral, although – as stated above – like everyone else, Rob is a little more fleshed out here. Also, her coming back is less integral to the plot, as Marianne and Connell are seen to be in regular cyber communication afterwards anyway. 

·      Just how wealthy is Marianne’s family? A huge house on a few acres in Sligo. A spacious apartment in a house on Wellington Road in Dublin. An enormous villa with a swimming pool in northern Italy. How much does a country solicitor earn? They’d need to be plutocrats to be able to maintain all that, let alone afford it in the first place. Or is it all inherited? 

·      The TV version wisely lays aside all that sociological fallout from Marianne and Jamie’s break up – all his girly posh friends siding with him – as it just didn’t ring true.

·      In the TV series Connell is a GAA head, whereas in the novel he plays and follows soccer, as I understood it. This is seen in an early episode where he scores a goal for the school GAA team, and in the penultimate episode, in Connell’s Sligo bedroom, where the couple are watching a GAA match, while in the book it’s a soccer World Cup quarter final. In the book, he’s a Liverpool fan (which, incidentally, doesn’t say much for him). I suspect this change has been made to make Ireland appear more exotic for the British/Worldwide market. A fair trade-off, Sally? Also, that brings up the question, to which I’d love an answer: whatever about Trinity having a soccer team, does it have a Gaelic team?

·      I still think it was kind of arbitrary that she didn’t go to New York with him.

There are rumours that Normal People – Season 2 might be entering production. Would that be based on an as yet to be published sequel? Or would it be a stand alone TV project. While it would make commercial sense, it would more than likely be an artistic failure. Far too many TV series outstay their welcomes. It’d be a real shame if we arrived at Normal People – Season 7, and it suffered from all the slapdashness that tarnished the seventh and final season of Game of Thrones.


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