Last October I read the book ‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney over a period of two months. You might wonder why a book of 266 pages would take so long. It’s well written and quite easy to read after all. It tells the simple tale of a heterosexual couple who start a relationship in secondary school in the west of Ireland, before continuing an on-again, off-again friendship and relationship over their university days in Dublin.
Marianne is the privileged daughter of a widowed solicitor. Connell is the son of a single parent cleaner – one of her clients is Marianne’s mother. Their stop-start affair is told in painstaking detail. What I felt was lacking in the book was how blank these characters are. The motivations of the two are not explored – nor those of the surrounding characters. At face value the book was fine – the writing is clear and concise. To actually get to the end however, was a process as stop-start and protracted as the love affair between the novel’s protagonists. I prevailed and in the run up to Christmas I completed it. It didn’t grip me however – although it was critically acclaimed and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
To my amazement a few weeks ago advertisements started appearing on television for the dramatization of the book – in twelve parts. Adapted by Rooney herself and directed by Oscar nominated director Lenny Abrahamson – he directed ‘Adam and Paul’ and the cinema version of ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue – this adaptation would be in twelve parts of thirty minutes each. I was confused. It must be thrilling for a writer to have her novel transferred to the screen. But twelve parts? Effectively this means that it would take longer to watch the entire show, than to actually read the book in one sitting – the fact that it took me two months to read it notwithstanding. I was concerned – my suspicions were raised that the programme would have many meaningful glances and atmospheric pauses.
Putting put my reservations to one side I decided to give it a chance.
In the meantime, I started to doubt this show. It was marketed heavily by RTE – Ireland’s national broadcaster. Relentlessly in fact. I couldn’t turn the television on without seeing the two mournful looking actors looking morosely and dramatically at each other. When the promotion for the show started on the radio I started to get annoyed. I had planned to watch the show already. This badgering was beginning to feel like harassment. It was all so serious sounding. All the ad was missing was that sonorously voiced gentleman who used to voice the trailers for upcoming cinema releases. Marianne and Connell’s love affair sounded as portentous as that of Romeo and Juliet. I had read the book though. It sounded like false advertising.
Well the show started last night. I switched it on, feeling a resentment towards it which was as a direct result of the unremitting promotional assault of the previous weeks. I watched the first two episodes.
The actors are fine – they do a creditable job with the material they have. The story is as slight as in the book though. On the page it’s adequate. Onscreen however it’s a drab tale about dreary characters in a dull town. There’s slow motion camera work to indicate the depths of the passion of the bland teenagers; and atmospheric music to show how sincere and meaningful the whole thing is.
Teenaged love is all consuming for those involved – I know this – we’ve all been there. As a topic for a twelve part prime-time series however – I am not so sure. I’ll watch another episode next week – maybe dramatic license will have been taken and it will feature a much needed car chase. I live in hope.