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The Major Differences Between Hulu's 'Normal People' and the Book

The characters lack the depth that made Rooney's novel so brilliant.

normal people    episode 2   episode 102    connell paul mescal and marianne’s daisy edgar jones relationship continues in secret and they sleep together for the first time at school, connell makes excuses for why he didn’t see his friends at the weekend and evades questions on his mother’s job at marianne’s house a girl in his friendship group, rachel leah mcnamara, gets impatient with connell’s lack of interest and tensions build for connell   meanwhile, marianne must find a way to explain her unplanned absences to her prying brother alan frank blake connell paul mescal and marianne daisy edgar jones, shown photo by enda bowe
Element Pictures / Enda Bowe

By now, you've heard of Normal People—Sally Rooney's popular novel that's probably sitting on your bookshelf with a couple dried-up tears inside. Like most fans of Rooney, I was pumped to hear that Hulu created a 12-episode series based on the book. The show, starring Daisy Edgar-Jones as Marianne and Paul Mescal as Connell, dropped on the streaming service on April 29, leaving fans like myself wondering, does the show match up to the book? The simple answer: Not entirely.

While Rooney did co-write the first six episodes of the season, there are key differences between the show and the book. In a way, that's normal for most book-to-screen adaptations, but when you love a book so much, you want them to get the whole thing right. Here, we break down the key differences between the Normal People Hulu series and the novel, dissecting what the show took the liberty of expanding on...and what it didn't. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.)


Connell and Marianne's Other Romantic Relationships

While Connell and Marianne's relationship with each other is the center of Normal People, their connections with other people are equally as important to understand how the characters grow.

In the show, Connell's relationship with Helen makes it seem like she's an "annoying girlfriend." In most scenes, she's asking about Marianne in some way, and when Connell is forced to face his mental health issues, her character breaks up with him. In the book, Helen is a bit more conservative and, because of this, Connell feels like she brings out the better parts of him. In an alternate Hulu universe, there would be justice for Helen!

Also, I was cringing at the make-out session between Connell and his teacher, Miss Neary, outside the nightclub. In the book, they almost hook up! And it's borderline non-consensual! Can you tell I feel some type of way? Marianne did too because, in the book, she ends up telling Connell she'll kill Miss Neary if she ever goes near him again. As for the show? She never finds out.

For Marianne, the show does a good job at showcasing all of her relationships with other people—except for Lukas. In the book, I felt like he was just as uninterested in Marianne as she was in him. The show makes it seem otherwise. In the series, he needs her not only as a sexual partner, but as a muse for his work. It gave me the creeps, but, to be honest, all of the guys that Marianne dates that aren't Connell give me the creeps.

normal people    episode 1   episode 101    in a school in small town west of ireland, connell paul mescal is a well liked, good looking and athletic student marianne daisy edgar jones is a proud, intimidating and unpopular loner who actively avoids her classmates and questions her teachers’ authority   an attraction sparks between them when connell comes to collect his mother lorraine sarah greene who works at marianne’s house a deep connection grows between the two teenagers – one they cannot stop but that they are determined to conceal from their peers marianne daisy edgar jones, shown photo by enda bowehulu
Daisy Edgar-Jones stars as Marianne in Normal People.
Element Pictures / Enda Bowe

Marianne's Appearance

In the book, Marianne is not "conventionally pretty." Compared to the other girls at school, she's the outcast. The book notes that Marianne puts no effort into making herself look "nice," so she dresses plain and doesn't experiment with makeup like her other female peers. On the other hand, Daisy Edgar-Jones is above average on the physical appearance scale. She can rock bangs like no other, and basically dresses like she's a Brandy Melville model. When she gets to Trinity College, she's supposed to be the belle of the ball, but she's already cute! There's no big reveal! Except for the fact that she would wear a scarf as a necktie.

Marianne's Relationship With Her Family

The show illustrates Marianne and her mother's relationship perfectly and, honestly, it's sadder than I remember. The one arc that is missing in the Sheridan dynamic is Marianne's relationship with her brother, Alan.

From what we know from the book, Alan isn't the best big brother. He bullies Marianne, physically and verbally, as a coping mechanism to the loss of his and Marianne's father. We do find out in the show that Mr. Sheridan would physically abuse their mother when Marianne gives a late-night confession to Connell. In the show, Alan mirrors this abuse by pouring dirty dishwater on Marianne's head and slamming the door on her face.

If we were shown more of Alan and Marianne's relationship and the trauma she's experienced, non-readers would understand why Marianne is the way she is when it comes to certain situations with men.

normal people    episode 1   episode 101    in a school in small town west of ireland, connell paul mescal is a well liked, good looking and athletic student marianne daisy edgar jones is a proud, intimidating and unpopular loner who actively avoids her classmates and questions her teachers’ authority   an attraction sparks between them when connell comes to collect his mother lorraine sarah greene who works at marianne’s house a deep connection grows between the two teenagers – one they cannot stop but that they are determined to conceal from their peers joanna eliot salt and marianne daisy edgar jones, shown photo by enda bowehulu
Joanna (Eliot Salt) and Marianne (Edgar-Jones) in Normal People.
Element Pictures / Enda Bowe

Marianne's Female Friendships

In college, Marianne is ~cool.~ Therefore, she's supposed to have a lot of ~cool~ friends, but the show only highlights her friendships with Peggy and Joanna. We get the gist that Peggy is supposed to be "nay," and Joanna is "yay," but the show misses the mark on how co-dependent Peggy is on Marianne. (She's a frenemy!) There are only one or two scenes that focuses on their friendship.

Marianne did benefit from some friendships, like the one she had with Joanna, but the series should have showcased Marianne's relationship with Karen from her Sligo school days. After the terrifying incident at the dance, Karen is one of the only girls from school to comfort her, and they end up forming a relationship afterward. Karen, like Helen, also deserves justice because she's a mutual friend of both Marianne and Connell that gives them a connection to their hometown.

normal people    episode 2   episode 102    connell paul mescal and marianne’s daisy edgar jones relationship continues in secret and they sleep together for the first time at school, connell makes excuses for why he didn’t see his friends at the weekend and evades questions on his mother’s job at marianne’s house a girl in his friendship group, rachel leah mcnamara, gets impatient with connell’s lack of interest and tensions build for connell   meanwhile, marianne must find a way to explain her unplanned absences to her prying brother alan frank blake connell paul mescal and marianne daisy edgar jones, shown photo by enda bowe
Connell (Paul Mescal) and Marianne (Edgar-Jones) in Normal People.
Element Pictures / Enda Bowe

The Inner Dialogue of Marianne and Connell

I'm just going to say it: You need Marianne and Connell's inner dialogues to understand what's going on in certain scenes. If this show was your first introduction to Normal People, I am sorry! The reason why this book has gotten so much praise is because Rooney's characters have depth. Instead, the show transforms them into moping people with problems that blend them in with every other millennial.

In her novel, Rooney writes, "It occurred to Marianne how much she wanted to see [Connell] having sex with someone; it didn't have to be her, it could be anybody." In the show, Marianne tells Connell that, but it doesn't come off the same. "I kept thinking how much I wanted to watch you have sex," she says to him after they hook-up. "I mean, not even with me." The book lets the reader know Marianne is serious about this man, while the show made her seem weird.

Overall, despite these key differences, the show lives up to the hype of the book. I can't stop thinking about those steamy sex scenes between Marianne and Connell, and neither will you once you start binge-watching.

Normal People is currently streaming on Hulu. Sign up for a free trial here.

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