In the world of Netflix, BBC iPlayer and on demand, very few series are universally obsessed over. I suppose Fleabag and the Hot Priest? I was thinking about Andrew Scott whenever I saw cans of G&T for far too long after I’d finished watching that series. It’s rare though. Of course there are other series that have a cult-like following but, there are very few that ignite the same feelings inside of all of us. So, in such a saturated arena, how did a sexy Irish boy and a gorgeous girl with an impossible fringe end up on the minds of everyone with a pulse? (Yes, I’m insinuating that the only reason not to have watched Sally Rooney’s Normal People is if you are in fact dead.)
My friend Billy gave me this book last year, he’d got to about page 20 and had given up. Admittedly I didn’t do much better, I just couldn’t connect to the characters, and to be honest I just didn’t care about their lack of communication and back and forth. To be frank, I found it quite boring. How truly wrong I was. Consumed by tragic story lines and unpredictable narratives, I had forgotten how effective displays of normality can be.
It’s why we have a strange obsession with reality television, because we love to see ourselves reflected on the screen. We like to relate, to understand and to reminisce. Marianne is an outcast, a confident, witty, intelligent outcast, who like many of us just had to get through school with her head down and her defences up. She’s brave and she’s bold, impulsively allowing the words ‘I like you’ to escape from her mouth. It’s those moments in our own lives that we remember isn’t it? The moments that we let slide away – where we should have just said something. There are moments throughout the series where you just want to shout: ‘WAIT, STOP, someone say something else, or say what you mean, don’t just walk away?!’ But that’s the thing about this love story, it feels as though it’s not scripted. It is laced with the realities of conversations where nothing productive is said; where your intentions are misunderstood and you don’t hear what you should. That’s real life. It happens all the time, and we don’t always stop to say: ‘what do you mean by that?’ Rather we defend ourselves, protect our fragile hearts, hear what we want to hear and walk away. I’ve had conversations with men that I’ve been dating, without them even being there for god’s sake. I’ve said (in my head, not aloud, I don’t actually speak to them aloud when they’re not there) I’ve said what I wanted to say, how I’m feeling and how I view the situation and then I’ll imagine their reply and decide that my already broken heart can’t hear those words, so I don’t bother to have the face to face ordeal. Love can often strip us of the ability to have a comprehensible conversation because so much is at stake. Not only is your heart responsible for pumping blood around the body but it provides feelings of joy and love. Though it’s frustrating to watch them misunderstand each other, it’s so magnifying for us to watch because we do it in our own lives.
The imperfect conversations are only heightened by the imperfect sex scenes. Taking off your own clothes and manoeuvring around a single bed is how many of us will recall our early sexual encounters. Their intimacy is enough to send a shiver through your genitals, and not because it resembles porn or the sex of our dreams, but because it focuses on two people who can’t get enough of each other. Two people who want to be close, naked and intertwined. It’s helped by the fact that they’re both gorgeous; my love for Connell is inappropriate and slightly worrying, more worrying is my love for his chain. Cleverly, their beauty is counteracted by the movement, a real expression of how two bodies can’t move seamlessly but may still be in sync. Connell’s tenderness is counteracted by Marianne’s longing to find satisfaction. Pain and worthlessness tied up in what she associates with sex, perhaps even love. I’ve certainly been guilty of this, blurring the line between the kink and their treatment of you outside of the bedroom. As she says, it’s different with Connell. Perhaps that’s another reason why we can’t help but watch, because until we’ve found that person that makes you realise all the others were wrong, you’re searching for different.
This is a modern love story. A love that is not generated through bold gestures but subtle alliances and signs of support. A love fuelled by attraction, lust and friendship. A love that cannot last. Neither will change their future for the benefits of the other, no sacrifices will be made to protect the love that they have, because they both know that to do that, would be to ruin that very love that exists between them. This story teaches us that we cannot have fairy tales, but chapters; all with their own start, middle and end. Normal people don’t always end up together. Normal people make decisions for themselves, not always giving up their dreams to put on the glass slipper. Normal people make mistakes and don’t always say what they mean. Normal people don’t always find the right person at the right time, more often than not it is the wrong time. Normal people need to communicate badly before they can learn to communicate well. Normal people are not as sexy as Paul Mescal. Sorry, I got distracted thinking about him naked. Oh, Normal people have pubic hair! Thank god for that display of isolation normality, you can have sex with pubic hair, what a revelation!
We’re obsessed with this story because it’s two normal people, flawed, imperfect, beautiful people who are driven by their emotions and challenged by the hardships of life.
Oh, and we get to see vivid sex, which in the height of an isolated lockdown is very welcome.