By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES – Sally Rooney’s novel “Normal People” might seem like just another young adult love story, but the makers of a television adaptation hope it will have the same kind of universal appeal that made the 2018 novel a bestseller.
“It’s a very small story in its way. It’s just two young people and their journey over four years, but it became this international phenomenon,” said Lenny Abrahamson, who directed six of the 12 episodes in the series that launches on Hulu and the BBC this week.
“A story about first love is universally appealing to any age,” he said in an interview.
“Normal People,” published in 2018 as Irish writer Rooney’s second novel, traces the secretive, on and off again sometimes awkward relationship between smart but unpopular Marianne Sheridan and shy but popular Connell Waldron as they move from high school in a small Irish town to university in Dublin.
“I would not have wanted to take it on if it was just a young adult love story,” said Abrahamson. “Sally takes this generation seriously. She writes about them as fully rounded human beings. Some of us never recapture how intense our experiences, how sharp our senses and appreciation of life and its possibilities are at that age.”
The TV adaptation, starring newcomers Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal, keeps the same settings, accents, and pared-down approach of the novel, as well as its frank intimacy.
Abrahamson, who was born and raised in Dublin, said there was never any pressure to move the story to the United States, or England, or to change it.
“We wondered whether there would be pressure to soften accents but they never asked us to internationalize it that way,” said Abrahamson.
“TV audiences are very sophisticated and very prepared to accept stories that in a sense are local but have an international resonance,” he added.
Rooney, 29, was a co-writer on the television series, which Abrahamson said aimed to “capture the novel in essence without having to parrot it.”
Reviews have been warm. Britain’s Guardian newspaper called the TV version “a small screen triumph,” while Variety said it was “as immersive as the book that inspired it.”
Sex is an important part of the novel and Abrahamson said he embraced the challenge to show intimacy between teens in a positive way.
“I thought it would be a radical thing to see on screen for a large audience – a really positive grown up, not coy, not sensationalized, depiction of intimacy,” he said. – Reuters