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Such was my housemate’s review of Normal People, the BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s bestselling novel, and what finally convinced me to watch it. Twelve half-hour episodes later, I can confirm: she was right.
When I was growing up, I inexplicably longed for a film or a book or a TV series that contained no real drama. No deaths, no explosive break-ups, no extraordinary wealth or unbelievable meet-cutes… just something that showed life as it is.
Normal People does just that. It is deeply, profoundly ordinary. It charts the relationship between two Irish teenagers – Marianne and Connell – as they navigate the journey from secondary school through university and into young adulthood. No high drama, no cliff-hangers, and yet it is never dull. There are – just as there are in life – moments of quiet misunderstanding, unexpectedly intimate admissions, and deep, aching disappointment and regret.
Normal People is so profoundly relatable because it speaks of the human experience in both its simplicity and its specificity. Friendship, love, intimacy, betrayal, forgiveness. How family forms you in irrevocable ways – for good or ill. How growing up is so beautiful and so painful all at the same time. How those we do life alongside change us in deep and unexpected ways.
The relatability of Normal People is, I think, what has made it so popular. To see something so very ordinary played out on the screens we’re used to watching high drama and light-hearted entertainment on catches you by surprise, and then somehow scratches an itch you didn’t necessarily know you had.
For those of us who are Christians, it is perhaps this that makes our faith so compelling. It is relatable. It is not about a far off, distant deity with whom you have nothing in common, who demands things of you. Instead, it is about a God who makes himself profoundly, deeply relatable.
The intimacy of the incarnation, the deep relatability of Emmanuel – God with us – somehow scratches an itch you didn’t necessarily know you had. This God is a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. He knows friendship, love, betrayal, forgiveness. He understands the parallel beauty and pain of life on earth – the messy mix of goodness and brokenness that we face on a daily basis.
And that, now perhaps more than ever, is a God for whom our world longs.
Nell is the Church Partnerships Manager at IJM UK. She tweets as @alianoree.