By Lily Brown
University can be an exciting new chapter in a lot of people’s lives. For many people, it is the first time they will be away from home and away from their parents and it can be a time to meet new people, explore new things and learn a few things along the way.
Normal People, originally a novel by Sally Rooney, and recently adapted into a twelve-part series for BBC Three follows the relationship and lives of Marianne and Connell, a young couple from Sligo. The novel and series chronicles their on/off relationship through sixth form and then university and through happy, traumatic and challenging moments in both of their lives.
For me, this story of young love rang true not only because their relationship was complicated and fraught with misunderstandings as well as romance and passion but because it dealt with some of the more difficult and challenging aspects of university life. For Marianne, university is, initially, a revelation. She has gone from being a strong but socially isolated teenager in sixth form, to be an adored member of a friendship group and girlfriend to an enthusiastic member of the university debate team. She is being recognised for her intelligence and admired for her beauty in ways that she never was at school, and at first, she enjoys the attention and the friendships she has gained. She grows in confidence and blossoms into a person somewhat unrecognisable from her school days. However, her initial relationship ends and she soon finds herself involved with Jamie who resents her friendship with Connell and eventually the relationship ends on particularly bad terms. On her return to university after studying abroad she finds herself without her big group of friends but knowing who her true friends are.
Connell too, experiences hardships that he never could have dreamt of at school where he was popular with the lads in his year group and admired by the most popular girls in school. He is a star player on the Gaelic football team and attends every social event. However, even at these early stages in the narrative, we are given a glimpse into his insecurities. Even though he clearly likes Marianne, he is paralysed with fear at the thought of admitting to his friends that he wants to be with her, and he allows this to guide his actions towards Marianne.
At university, these feelings of insecurity only worsen and evolve into loneliness and isolation. His depression starts to affect his relationship with his girlfriend, Helen. His friend Niall recommends seeking help and we see Connell starting to work through his feelings around his friend’s death and his own vulnerabilities. The issue of mental health problems faced by university students at every level has been highlighted in the media over the past few years and this representation of Connell recognising and seeking help is important for those experiencing similar problems while at university.
Towards the end of the series we see Connell and Marianne really begin to settle into university life and into the friendships and relationships they have developed over their time there. Through the encouragement and support he receives from Marianne; Connell decides to accept a place on a course at a university in New York. The series shows lots of positive aspects of university life including parties and opportunities to study abroad and it balances with realistic and sympathetic portrayals of the hard work and dedication that goes in to studying and living at university.
Image: The Guardian