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10 Reasons Why Normal People Hurt

Normal People hurt. It played verses from silent hymn sheets we’d abandoned deep in our churches of longing. It squeezed that brittle, dried out toothpaste tube of emotion from the bottom right the way up - until we produced feelings as agonisingly fresh as they were a decade ago. It tore me out of the sky and dumped me back in the quivering mess of late adolescence. The situations may belong to our pasts, but the themes - of confusion, shame and self-sabotage - still play their spectral parts now.


Here’s 10 reasons why Normal People got us where it hurts:

  1. It showed us that our first loves deserved to be taken seriously. Even though our parents scoffed, it honoured what we knew at the time - that this person, these first fumbling experiences, would stay with us forever. NP tended to these formative moments with levels of tenderness and recognition that made me feel unbearably seen

  2. NP reminded us what a fundamental trap belief is - how it limits what we think we deserve and what we reach for. Marianne believes that she isn’t loveable, Connell that he is hopelessly unsophisticated. They stand helpless in the prisons of their limiting beliefs while the world lies at their feet, simply waiting for them to pick it up. A timeless story of youth’s missed opportunities

  3. The tale of female denial is so ubiquitous that Marianne’s physique is barely a plot point. She shrinks herself like so many 17 year old girls - never filled up with the things she needs. That sad, half-eaten ice-lolly she puts down on Connell’s carpet is its own dark story that needs no telling, because most of us know that story all too well

  4. The series is full of small nothings that become everything; cups of tea, car rides, broken silences - tiny menial things lifted to poetic heights as they become the song sheet and scripture of their daily love. These details touch us slowly, creeping their way into significance: Lorraine’s ‘hang in there hug’ in Marianne’s kitchen becomes the ‘welcome home hug’ as she receives her on her own doorstep at Christmas; hesitant hand on a back by the pool becomes the first triumphant shift from fear to love. These layers build silently then tumble into knowing all at once - and when they tower up in their full meaning we are bowled over by the significance of all this insignificance

  5. Both want desperately to give love but have no idea how to receive it. What a fatal flaw in their HTML code...there is a sense, even at the end, that they will have to go right back through the lines they’d written, or their relationship will glitch forever. How many of us have doomed ourselves to the same repetitive fate

  6. Shame burns through them both with a ferocity that singes your eyebrows through the screen - it consumes them, breaks them, isolates them. It makes the gap in their understanding feel insurmountable - and words feel hopelessly insufficient to close it. It touched that impulse in all of us, to shrink away and hide ourselves, just when we most need to be seen

  7. Neither of them know how to wear their gifts. Marianne wears her intelligence with cold defensiveness, Connell wears his sensitivity with blistering hesitancy. They fear their own force, their own strength – and we have to watch them dismiss it, be ruled by it and then return to it on their own terms with faltering, agonising slowness

  8. Sex had a wonderful disregard for what exists outside of it. Clothed, we watched them rub up against the imbalances in power and class, but unclothed we see their instinct to love and honour one another played out with astonishing confidence. Whilst their conscious minds remain riddled with doubt, in sex they come together forcefully, mutually and without doubt. These two people only half understand the language that their bodies know so well - and that’s why the sex scenes bring such relief and such sadness. We yearn to see them speak fluently to one another through all the misunderstanding

  9. Connell’s regret hits with new levels of potency because the consequences of his carelessness and Marianne’s hurt announce themselves in new ways every episode. When she speaks to him in a flat tone about her new found love of S&M his eyes glaze over as he uncovers fresh rivulets in her skin, carved out by his cowardice like a braille of horrors

  10. The sheer scale of casualty in Normal People is what gives it its full tragedy. Everywhere lie the fallen soldiers of miscommunication - ghosts who did not have the tools to understand or express their emotions. Connell, Marianne, her mum, her brother, Rob - we see their silent prisons and mourn for them, knowing now - as we look back on our own lost loves - that the right words could have changed everything

Between lines of languished needs

The sinews of attraction tear through us

We move towards the thing

That pains us with its wanting


Written by Jess Bird

Illustrated by Helen Walker


Cover illustration by Christopher Bragg

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