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Literature / Normal People

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Normal People is a 2018 novel by Sally Rooney. The story follows Irish millennials Marianne and Connell from their secondary school in County Sligo to Trinity College in Dublin as they fall in and out of each other's romantic lives.

The book was adapted into a 12-episode series that aired on BBC Three and Hulu in April 2020. It stars Daisy Edgar-Jones as Marianne and Paul Mescal as Connell.

Tropes present in Normal People include:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: Published in 2018, the book takes place from 2011 to 2015, with an emphasis on the post-2008 financial crash backdrop.
  • Abusive Parents: Marianne says her father was abusive to her mother. The latter is the neglectful kind of abusive, allowing Alan to bully Marianne and being ignorant to her daughter's misery.
  • Academic Athlete: Connell was a star GAA player in school, but gets good enough grades to study English at Trinity College - Ireland's most prestigious university.
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  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: Both the book and the series end with Connell getting a scholarship to attend a university in New York, but the ending (and presumed future) in the book is much more ambiguous than in the show. We don't even know if he accepts it or not in the book.
  • Artistic License: Minor example in the series. The timeline is compressed slightly between Connell and Marianne taking their exams, and the debs, presumably for the sake of an international audience. In the UK and USA, prom is an end of year dance that happens before graduation. In Ireland however, the debs happen at the very end of the summer, generally after the Leaving Cert results come out.
  • Bad Boss: Marianne's mother Denise, despite being a wealthy lawyer who has a mansion and can afford to send her daughter to Trinity, barely pays Lorraine to be her maid.
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  • Big Brother Bully / Cain and Abel: Alan towards Marianne.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: Begins in high school and continues through college.
  • Country Mouse: Connell especially when he goes to Trinity. By contrast, Marianne has slotted right in.
  • Disappeared Dad: Both Marianne and Connell; Marianne's father died and given that Lorraine had Connell as a teenager, it is assumed his father was never in the picture.
  • Driven to Suicide: Connell's friend Rob commits suicide towards the end of the series.
  • Eating Lunch Alone: Marianne does this at the school's cafeteria.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex: The sexual lives of Connell and Marianne are explored in the second episode of the series, which has many sex scenes. The last scene of the episode even has Marianne offering to do it with him in an abandoned house.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: In school, Marianne wears her hair down to her waist and often tied back in a modest braid, and her bangs are cut short in a harsh line. By the time Connell runs into her in college, where she's become more confident in herself, her hair has shortened considerably and she wears it down with longer, less 'uptight' bangs.
  • First-Name Basis: Connell often calls his mother by her given name Lorraine.
  • Hate Sink:
    • Jamie is rude to everyone, complains about feminism repeatedly, is a complete Strawman in every argument, displays subtle racism and generally seems to hate everything. As he's also Marianne's Romantic False Lead, he doesn't hold back attacking Connell.
    • Peggy is obnoxious, Does Not Like Men, has No Sympathy when Connell gets mugged and takes Jamie's side when he's being an asshole in Spain - victim blaming Marianne.
  • Heroic BSoD: Connell acknowledges in his therapy session that he's been feeling pretty dissatisfied with life for a while, but Rob's suicide completely breaks him.
    • His friend revealing that they all knew he and Marianne were at the very least hooking up at Debs causes Connell to have a breakdown in the middle of the street, as he realizes that all of his social anxiety about the relationship and the pain he caused Marianne was All for Nothing.
  • Hide Your Lesbians: Joanna in the book was confirmed to be in a relationship with another woman. A scene was filmed showing this but cut from the broadcast.
  • Hourglass Plot: In school, Connell is the popular one and Marianne is the loner. Marianne later finds her niche among the upper-middle-class students at Trinity whilst Connell is a Fish out of Water.
  • I Am Not Pretty: Marianne feels out of place in school next to the more obviously beautiful Rachel. Connell has to reassure her he finds her pretty. She's even surprised when he calls her beautiful in college.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: The Irish variant. Both Marianne and Connell study at Trinity College - the most prestigious university in the country.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Marianne is combative and abrasive to most people - at first anyway. She does however care deeply for those who show her kindness, and becomes a nicer person through maturity and college life.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Marianne in school. Her mother is a solicitor and has a Big Fancy House (the boys refer to it as "the mansion") but she has virtually no friends.
  • Longing Look: Done a lot by Marianne towards Connell in the pilot.
  • Lovable Jock: Connell is one of the few decent athletic boys at the school.
  • Manly Tears:
    • Connell breaks down crying over the phone after the debs when he realises how much he misses Marianne.
    • Connell likewise cries quite a lot in the famous scene where he confesses everything to his therapist.
  • Monochrome Casting: Done intentionally in the series, where the portions in rural Sligo have a majority of white characters with only the occasional person of colour in the background. This contrasts with the Dublin scenes, where characters of other ethnicities and nationalities feature more prominently.
  • Pet the Dog: One of Connell's school friends is a bit of a Jerkass and bully towards Marianne, but he and Connell meet for drinks after college starts and he admits he misses him.
  • Precision F-Strike: Lorraine drops several f-bombs while giving Connell a "Reason You Suck" Speech regarding his treatment of Marianne. He's especially uncomfortable because she's using the world in a sexual context.
  • Romantic False Lead:
    • Rachel, who's something of an Alpha Bitch, ends up as Connell's date for his debs (Irish version of the prom), which puts an end to his relationship with Marianne. By the time they run into each other in college, Rachel had briefly become his girlfriend but they split up entirely offscreen.
    • Gareth, Marianne's first boyfriend at Trinity, is tossed aside almost as soon as Marianne reconnects with Connell.
    • Jamie who Marianne starts seeing in college after a misunderstanding between her and Connell.
    • Helen, Connell's girlfriend for a portion of the book, breaks up with him a few weeks after Rob's funeral. She knows that Connell is carrying a torch for Marianne the entire time.
  • Secret Relationship: In secondary school, Connell and Marianne's relationship is kept secret. Connell thinks it'll be awkward, as he's a popular jock while she's at the bottom of the food chain, so he fears judgment and losing his social standing. However, after he breaks Marianne's heart, his friends reveal that they knew all along and didn't care.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Marianne goes to a lot of effort to look nice at a school fundraiser, Letting Her Hair Down and donning a Little Black Dress. Sadly it opens her up to unwanted attention, and she's sexually assaulted by one of her brother's friends.
  • Slobs Versus Snobs: A comparison is drawn between the two leads. Connell is from working class roots, is extremely uncomfortable around his posh Trinity peers and has to work two jobs to both afford tuition and accommodation. Marianne is the daughter of a solicitor, comes into her own surrounded by posh intellectuals and has everything paid for her by her family.
  • Straw Feminist:
    • Subverted. Marianne has strong feminist beliefs in school but is portrayed realistically.
    • Peggy however Does Not Like Men, delights when a man is put in his place and seems to delight in humiliating awkward men.
  • Straw Misogynist: Jamie meanwhile can't go an episode without complaining about feminism or women in general, and raises these arguments so he can be shot down.
  • Team Mom: Joanna, Marianne's caring college roommate.
  • Uptown Girl: Connell's mother is the Sheridans' housekeeper.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Connell is often shirtless or even completely naked. The series turned Paul Mescal into a sex symbol.

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