Kourtney Kardashian is a fan, so is Taylor Swift, and just about everyone else. We can’t seem to get enough of Normal People – Connell’s chain even has its own Instagram page with 120,000 followers. But what do West Cork's college students think of it? And does it reflect their lives? Emma Connolly asked them
Ellen Daly, Clonakilty, (19), CIT, Visual Communications, 1st Year
I DEVOURED Normal People in a single sitting … is that a good or a bad thing? Maybe it’s because of the current pandemic or simply my unhealthy infatuation for Connell! Either way, I found it an emotional rollercoaster, and more addictive as each episode went on.
Firstly, I was pleasantly surprised to see this as a serious Irish series rather than a comedic show as is usually the case when set in Ireland.
The series conveyed poignant, raw emotions and beautifully covered abusive relationships, family, college, suicide, depression, love, sex and fitting in. I enjoyed the love story between the shy girl and the ‘jock’ of the secondary school. Even though in reality that rarely happens. Connell is definitely a stereotypical good looking Irish teenage lad and Marianne gives me a serious Dakota Johnson/Anne Hathaway vibe. Both are pleasing to the eye, but that wasn’t the only thing that made them sublime. The nudity is so normalised and not sensationalised in the series. It addresses consent very brilliantly and we see the awkward bits of sex which usually aren’t portrayed in film or TV. It was quite relatable for teenagers only just becoming sexually active. I also liked that the nudity was equal, because usually it isn’t.
I personally related to Connell feeling isolated when first moving county to start his new chapter in Trinity College. Everyone tells you about the highs of college and how they are ‘the best years of your life’ but no one tells you that you’ll miss home, you’ll miss the comfort of knowing everyone in your class and the piles of assignments to do even after your Leaving Cert is completed!
Another issue well addressed is how men struggle so immensely with their mental health while everyone can be so oblivious to it. That was an eye opener, especially the episode where he is talking to his therapist about the loss of his friend.
I think the show was so captivating because boys our age don’t usually express their emotions. It was unfiltered and real.
Overall, I highly recommend the series to any age as one of the best shows that I've seen in a long time – but beware when it’s all over, you will be fighting the urge to get a Marianne quarantine fringe.
Trinity College, Business
Economics and Social Studies, 2nd year
I THINK Normal People has been such a huge global success because of its brutal honesty and its unpolished display of raw emotions. It nailed the awkwardness in adolescent life to a tee. From the taking photos before the debs to the sex scenes which are some of the first I’ve seen which didn’t glamorise these experiences and showed how sex influenced the progression of their relationship, which, I hope sends a good message to younger viewers of the importance and vulnerability of it.
The equal display of nudity was something I was shocked by, but found added to the interpretation of the story by normalising it. Another aspect of the show which I resonated with was this feeling of complacency which then changed when I moved to college.
When we are younger, I feel like our popularity status in our area is important to us and we work to build that up. This controls what relationships we have and how much of ourselves we show (just like Connell).
When I moved away from home to go to college in Trinity in Dublin, I found it quite hard, as I know my friends who moved away from everything they knew, also felt.
People only tell you the good things about college which lifts the expectations up to an ethereal-like level. Yet I, (along with many others), found it to be incredibly isolating.
Luckily this subsided and I couldn’t be happier there now, but this initial shock was exactly how Connell felt which I found quite reassuring.
The show also addresses issues with male mental illness and suicide as well as strained family relationships and toxic co-dependency.
Essentially, I found its depiction of Irish adolescence to be scarily realistic – as if they were in my head at some points.
Cambridge, PhD Biology
WHAT captivates me about Normal People is that it actually reminds me very much of my own school life and my college experience in UCC.
Growing up, I would have never have even considered moving as far away as Dublin as I was very much a home-bred West Cork man and even travelling to UCC felt like a big deal at the time.
Now, since moving to the UK to study in Cambridge, I can really appreciate college life in Ireland and watching the series made me realise that I’ve cherished fond memories.
I also like the way the series shows the emotional maturation of Marianne and Connell and the dynamics of their relationship seems like an honest reflection of reality – with all its bumps on the way.
The title is perfect and the more I watched, the more I could relate to it, even if I never thought I’d be blocking my eyes for sex scenes at the age of 23! There’s some hot stuff in it alright. All the same, I do think that it is a moving depiction of the normalities of young people's sex lives today.
I think it also honestly reflects their struggles and gains, emotions, school/college life, while touching on important topics like domestic abuse and the big R ... relationships!
UCC, Government and Political Science, 1st year
I THINK that Normal People is a truthful exposé on modern life in Irish third-level institutions and feel that everyone can relate to a character in the series, just like the book.
We first meet Connell resting comfortably on confidence, approval, and astuteness. Secondary school facilitates a social ladder to climb and dominate, so Connell knows no different. His first pivotal weeks in Trinity are something students may relate to. As we leave the handheld education system and enter an overwhelming environment, it’s easy to feel alienated.
Many students have difficultly moving away from home. Some must work part-time jobs to compete with rent demands. We find difficulty in making friends, similar to Connell. He does not rest as easy on the social ladder as Marianne does, who is at last able to articulate her rebelliousness in Trinity.
I think that Normal People also perfectly captures the anxious teenager, unable to vent their feelings properly. Through Marianne and Connell's unique relationship, they can only correspond through sex. This is a big hint towards the modern hook-up culture in colleges today as relationships are avoided by many young people who are unable to commit.
I enjoyed Normal People but think it might not have been so controversial, only for the unique lockdown situation we've been in while bingeing on it.