It’s most obviously a show for young people, whose experiences most closely mirror Marianne and Connell’s, but the BBC’s Normal People was a huge hit with another demographic: The Mums. What did our parents get out of Normal People? I spoke to four mums about the show – Lucy, 53, from Shropshire; Anne, 68, from Donegal; Marie, 77 from Pontefract and Erica, 56, from London – to find out.
Lucy: Too much sex for a middle-aged mummy with two children at Trinity. We all like to think that our little darlings are studying in the library and then going home for a cup of tea.
Marie: It was such a relief to see sex represented in such a tender and loving way on television. I just felt some hope, really, that the world hadn't exactly changed.
Erica: It was beautiful. It wouldn't have been real without it. I discussed it with friends who said ‘oh, I don't want to watch all that teenage sex’, but I didn’t get it! Young people have sex, whether you like it or not. It did annoy me, all that condescending chatter about the sex scenes. Especially on Woman's Hour. I could have just strangled Jenni Murray.
Anne: Sometimes I thought ‘come on, guys, it's not a spectator sport, we've seen enough’. But it didn't bother me. There’s a lovely scene where they’re in bed talking, and I was discussing it with a friend of mine who said “I just wish they got rid of his penis.” But the acting was honestly so good I didn’t even notice.
There’s this programme on Irish radio called Liveline, which generally drives me bananas, and there were people ringing up and giving out about it and I just thought, my God, can you not appreciate it? To me it’s one of the best things I've ever seen come out of Ireland.
Comparisons with the book
Marie: I still haven’t read it. One of the problems of running a book group is you never get to read the books you want to read.
Lucy: I kept throwing it across the room, I couldn’t bear it. I didn't think it was a book for our generation at all, but I wondered if it was because it's actually very sad, and I wanted to think about my babies being happy at university.
Erica: A lot of younger people I spoke to said ‘what’?! You haven't read the book? So I did after watching the show, and I’m glad I did.
The Mothers of Normal People
Erica: I talked about this a lot with people actually. You've got one seriously young mother - I was a young mother with my eldest, but not as young as that - who was incredibly sensitive and switched on. And then the other mother was… I don't want to put a label on her, but it actually took my breath away, how she treated her daughter. But I think it was subtly done, those two opposites.
Anne: I was so sorry for Marianne that she had to be brought up like that. But I do think if you’re affected by it, that’s good.
Lucy: I felt total empathy with Connell's mother when she was furious for not asking Marianne to the Debs. I got that, that fury with your child for upsetting somebody else's child.
Marie: Connell’s mother could have been my mother. Or as my daughter said, it could have been me, but no one likes to think they've just replicated their mother!
Lucy: Yeah, what was that? There was that bit where it goes in her mouth, was it just part of the intimacy thing? I couldn't get the fuss about it.
Marie: Funnily enough, my daughter commented on that. But it just seemed to me to belong. It just seemed to be a part of him.
Erica: Absolutely over my head. I loved Marianne’s clothes though.
Anne: It gave me an insight into what young people are up against if they're in any way different. I would think it's much tougher to negotiate school now. I went to school when, in Ireland, there was no free education, so not everybody got to go to secondary school. So everybody who was going to school had nearly with the same life experiences as you. And as well as that, we were all too afraid to behave badly!
Erica: I don’t think young people are necessarily navel-gazing. Teenagers are obsessed with themselves, but so what? They're exploring, they're experimenting, they're young. I just felt for them very much and thought ‘yes, your life isn't that easy’. Everyone thinks school and university are the best years of your life, but sometimes they're not. I think all this coronavirus business has made people more aware of that big transition from home to going away to university.
Marie: Previously I’ve felt so much despair about their generation. I don't understand their lifestyle, because it seems to me that sex is predatory now. And that women are the losers. But at least throughout this, the sex between Marianne and Connell was loving.
Lucy: It did make me understand that generation a bit more. I think they're a great deal more intense than we were. I was a teenager in the 80s, and I think we had more fun, and we were under no pressure at all, really. We also didn't have mobile phones. I didn't overthink things because I didn't have the ability to discuss it with 85 of my closest friends.
If I can take something from it, it’s that I need to take them more seriously and not roar with laughter and say ‘relax, have a ginormous drink, it'll be fine.’ To be a little kinder.