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What Happens in Sally Rooney's Book Normal People?

Normal People: What Happened in the Novel — If You Want to Know Ahead of the Hulu Show

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Watch out! This post contains spoilers.

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In the mood for a dose of angsty 2010s new adult romance? Hulu's TV adaptation of Sally Rooney's Normal People has you covered. Rooney's book focuses on class, adulthood, and, frankly, two overstimulated, star-crossed lovers. It's possible, if not probable, that the onscreen adaptation will deviate from the novel. After all, Normal People is something of a hangout piece with spikes of drama but not much action. If you're curious to see how the novel matches up with the Hulu version, here's a spoiler-filled breakdown of the turbulent romance in Normal People.

Marianne and Connell in High School

Set in Ireland from 2011 to 2015, Normal People hinges on the on-and-off relationship between two high school and college sweethearts: Marianne and Connell. Their relationship, suffice to say, is one twisted roller coaster. Marianne and Connell first get together in Carricklea while in high school. Connell's mother, Lorraine, who had him as a teen, is a housekeeper for Marianne's rich, abusive family. While Connell is poor, he's relatively popular at school. Marianne, on the other hand, isn't as well-adjusted — she's considered cold and odd. Still, they share a special bond, both fairly smart and as the kids say, angsty as hell. The two of them hook up and keep their relationship under wraps and undefined because Connell is too embarrassed to date openly. And, yes, this ends terribly. Connell asks another person to their school dance, which prompts them to break up and Marianne to leave school.

Marianne and Connell in College

The two cross paths again at Trinity College in Dublin. Socially, their lives turn a total 180. Marianne is a social butterfly, but Connell doesn't quite fit in with his rich peers. They soon start another friends-with-benefits relationship, though this time more openly. Things sour when Connell loses his job and has to return home for the summer — Connell doesn't want to ask to stay with her. They break things off until Marianne is back in Carricklea for her father's anniversary mass. The two reconcile once more, but Marianne is dating an abusive guy named Jamie, who enjoys hurting her. Connell, who really does not like Jamie, also starts seeing Helen, a student who's pleasant but just not Marianne. While the pair don't see each other often, they keep up over email pretty consistently. The next summer, they travel around Europe with friends, Connell able to do so thanks to a scholarship. After a tense moment with Jamie and an awkward kiss from Connell, Marianne breaks up with Jamie in Europe.

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The next school year, Marianne studies abroad in Sweden and dates another terrible guy named Lukas. Like Jamie, he also likes her to be submissive, tying her up and taking photos of her. Meanwhile, Connell struggles with the news that his high school friend Rob has committed suicide. In a spiral, he sees a school therapist.

Marianne and Connell in the End

Inevitably, Connell and Marianne get back together when they both come home. Just as they're about to have sex, she tells him to hit her. He doesn't want to, so she leaves. When Marianne gets to her house, her brother Alan ends up hurting her, so she calls Connell, who picks her up and threatens to kill Alan. As fate would have it, Marianne and Connell are an item again, this time settling in a more functional relationship. Connell's now pretty involved in the literary community at school. When Connell gets an offer for an MFA writing program in New York, Marianne encourages him to leave without her and take the opportunity, even if it means they might not end up together. Perhaps there will be a more definitive conclusion in the adaptation — we'll just have to wait and see.

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