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Changing Media: Book to TV Adaptations

The last few months in lockdown has given me time to tackle my TBR pile and catch up on TV shows. Coincidentally, the books I was reading were being adapted onto the screen during this time. So with the literary version of the stories fresh in my mind, I watched the screen equivalents of two very different adaptations. Please remember that there are *spoilers* and that this is purely my own opinion and felt it interesting to discuss.

Normal People

Normal People by Sally Rooney was a book I first read last summer and upon hearing of its screen production shortly after, I greatly anticipated its release. It definitely did not disappoint and I was impressed by the handling of many issues that arises throughout the story. The cast was amazing and really did the characters justice, and the chemistry between Marianne and Connell was so profound. I found that it’s definitely an advantage for a story on screen as even though a novel can of course describe connection and love between two characters, it felt very different to actually see such a connection, particularly when the actors do it so well. Another reason as to why I felt it did well as a show was the elements of drama whilst still being realistic in the normalcy of it. There are many situations during the show that people would relate to that thankfully they didn’t try to romanticise which can often happen. Such situations were arguments with friends, awkward first times, poor mental health, family issues etc. I feel it must be highlighted the delicate and respectful handling of the issues of mental health on both main characters, in particular Connell’s anxiety. They made sure to amplify the important issues from the book to make clear to a new audience that men should be able to speak up when struggling. The scene of Connell finally speaking about his loneliness, his friends death, his anxiety to a councillor is something I rarely see in TV. They used their platform to bring the issue of men’s mental health into the limelight and in doing so shows that it is normal to feel this way. Normal People is an important example of a novel needing to be seen on screen to reach the masses.

NORMAL PEOPLE – Connell (Paul Mescal) left and Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) right

Little Fires Everywhere

I enjoyed this novel thoroughly for its exploration into the intensity of motherhood weighted with class and race and how this dictated decisions. Celeste Ng writes very subtly, never announcing Mia’s race but allowing the reader to make assumptions based on attitudes in Shaker Heights. I found this to be very effective and allowed moments to internalise what I was reading and understand each perspective. So I was very intrigued to see how the show would adapt these concepts on screen. The powerful performances of the actors did incredibly well to address the issues discussed, and whilst the show did very much stay faithful to a lot of the novel, it did make a few drastic changes that I wasn’t sure I agreed with. I do understand that book adaptations often change a few things to fit the medium, however I’m not sure the changes made were vital to the story or purely just for the ‘wow’ factor of TV shows. Major changes that intrigued me were Izzy’s sexuality, Elena’s complex relationship with her ex-boyfriend and the personification of Bebe Chow. Izzy’s sexuality does give further motivation for her rebellious nature. An affair is perhaps not the best development, as Elena isn’t meant to be the villain, yet seeing her as a young, struggling mother adds considerable depth to her. However, their decision to make Bebe Chow force her way into her lost child’s birthday party in a fit of rage was one I felt may have been for the drama. It didn’t happen in the novel and, logically speaking, it would have hurt her case when fighting for her child in court. There were many other changes and I honestly felt like it was bordering on a pile-up of themes, yet I still felt that the issue of class and race were thankfully made very important and very well executed. Regardless of what they chose to add, this theme is prominent throughout and I’m glad it is discussed so explicitly.

LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE – Mia Warren (Kerry Washington) left and Elena Richardson (Reese Witherspoon) right

Let me know what you thought about the two adaptations!


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