(this is your warning that there are some spoilers contained within, best to read after you’ve read or watched !!)
I believe in soul mates. I don’t think soul mates necessarily have to be romantic and I don’t necessarily believe they have to be the people you spend all of your days with. I think you could stumble across them at 7 and have them leave your life at 20, You could meet them right at the end of your life. Or, you could be one of those lucky ones who does get to love them for the majority of your life. For me, a soul mate is somebody you are intrinsically connected to. A person who easily slots into your life. A person who, when you’re together, makes the rest of the room fade away. As I said, I don’t necessarily think soul mates have to be romantic. Here, my mind flutters away to thinking of Jenna, in the musical/film, Waitress (hoping at least one of you knows this reference). When Jenna lays eyes on her daughter Lulu for the first time all of her past becomes meaningless, only everything from that point onwards becomes important. That instantaneous connection, the lifeline that Lulu is to her- I think that’s a perfect example of a non-romantic soul mate. There’s countless of film or literary examples that I could list off to you but today I want to focus on Sally Rooney’s characters Marianne and Connell from ‘Normal People. Whether it’s the book or the BBC3 adaptation you are familiar with, I’m sure you can agree- it’s heart-wrenchingly good and, the perfect example of what it is to have a soul mate (although they are very much of the romantic sort)!!
If you’re not yet familiar with either here’s your warning that there are a few spoilers so, you may want to leave this post till after you’ve read/watched!
The story follows the lives of Marianne and Connell, two Irish teenagers/twenty-somethings, who both leave their small town of Carricklea for Trinity University in Dublin. To anyone else around them, the two are drastically different. In school Marianne is too opinionated for her peers, her disinterest in subscribing to being ‘popular’ leaves her open to cruel insults and ridicule specifically regarding her appearance. Connell is on the football team, handsome, charmingly shy and, friends with the people responsible for isolating Marianne within the school. Connell’s mum, a legendary character, works for Marianne’s family and that’s how the two become familiar with each other. Despite their differences, the two enter into a passionate affair which transcends throughout their time at university (and Rooney hints onwards) into their adult lives. As a reader or viewer, you sit clenching your fingers and toes as you watch the two of them stumble over their words, fail to voice their true feelings and watch them break apart from each other. Marianne and Connell orbit around each other like the moon and sun. There’s no escaping their passion, no escaping their love. Eventually they find themselves magnetising together for a beautiful moment before drifting apart again. It’s a truly grimacing read in parts. Their rollercoaster relationship leaves you drained of emotion. I finished the book feeling like an empty vessel. I then went on to watch the series and now, I feel void of all feeling- it’s that emotionally traumatic.
In the series’ first week of release on Iplayer, a staggering 16.2 million people viewed the series. In that same week, the TV adaptation accounted for 70% of BBC3’s programme requests. Those figures, to me, highlight the mass impact Rooney’s story has had upon all demographics (excluding perhaps under 14s). 16-18 is a strange old time. It’s the years of our lives that we look back on with such fondness, a fondness we perhaps didn’t have in the moment we were living them. It’s the last few years with those people who have carried you through your school days. The people who saw you pre/post-puberty, who you sat with in those sweaty exam halls, who saw you cry/shout/laugh, the people you passed every single day in the corridors. They were everything you knew for such a long time of your life. I think, from my own experience, it’s only when that bubble fractures as you all step out onto very different paths that you realise just how much you appreciated the lot of them. Not necessarily like them but, appreciate them for shaping you into the person you are today. Amongst those people, for everyone, there’s that one specific person your mind drifts to. Perhaps they were your first boyfriend/girlfriend, or just someone you crushed hard on for seven years. Maybe you were best friends and you were both never brave enough to take it further. Either way, they’re the person that you just clicked with. The person who gave you your first taste of what it was like to have that ease with another. Conversations that flowed through the night (often on Snapchat from what I remember). The person you’d catch eyes with over the classroom, or in the corridor and share a knowing smile with. That person you’d have a code name for with your best friend, who you got excited to ‘bump in to’ at house parties, the person who consumed all your thoughts whilst you were trying your best to fill your head with A-Level revision. When I meet up with friends from school now, we often look back and giggle about ‘our person’. We joke with each other about how obvious it was to everyone else, how we all thought (back then) that we were going to end up married with three kids. There’s no feelings there anymore but, you still have that little itch to maybe bump into them when you’re visiting home for Christmas or when you’re out in town- just to see.
I think ‘Normal People’ captures that whole range of thoughts and feelings. It’s a programme that transports everyone back to their youth. It’s a programme that makes you ask yourself what if. Rooney’s narrative doesn’t’ have that sugarcoated fairytale layer to its romance- it’s awkward, it’s pathetic, vulnerable, painful, heart-wrenching yet, there isn’t one of us who wouldn’t give anything just to have a slither of what Marianne and Connell have. It’s real, more real than a love-story I’ve read or watched ever before. It made me want to just go wrap myself tight around my boyfriend and not let go until I was certain he knew just how much he meant to me. It made me realise just how special it is to love somebody that hard. Whether it is a romantic partner or a friend. Currently we’re all living in what feels like a very lonely world and we’re all longing for the moment we can touch without fear again. Watching or reading Normal People during a time where the whole world is seemingly longing to be back in the arms of somebody they love made it clear just how important it is to tell people just how much you bloody love them.
Normal People forces you to confront yourself about all those moments you let pass you by without voicing how you feel. I think that invasive sense of nostalgia or self-reflection that Rooney’s narrative instils in you is so, so important to feel. It reminds you of love’s naivety. It reminds you of love’s fragility, It reminds you to speak your heart. It reminds you to not let something as amazing as what Marianne and Connell have slip through your feelings- grasp love tight, never let it go.
If you adored Normal People i’ve listed some book/films below that are very much in line with Rooney’s story!! You can add them to your summer to be read and to be binged lists! Have you read or watched Normal People- what did it make you feel? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them- let me know in the comments below!
One Day by David Nicholls – 2011 film adaptation with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgress
Where Rainbows End by Cecelia Ahern- ‘Love Rosie’ starring Lily Collins and Sam Claflin
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes- 2016 film adaptation with Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin
PS I Love You by Cecelia Ahern- The BEAUT 2007 film with Gerald Butler and Hilary Swank
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney