The BBC’s latest drama Conversations with Friends has been widely hailed a flop, with critics saying it failed to recapture the magic’ of Sally Rooney’s first adaptation Normal People.
Many have also noted how it’s very similar to Normal People – although perhaps more boring – featuring a slender brunette lead from rural Ireland, characters losing their virginity and going on foreign trips, complicated relationships with red-haired single mothers and the lead studying English at a Trinity College, Dublin.
And while the leads – Daisy Edgar Jones in Normal People and Alison Oliver in Conversations with Friends – could easily be mistaken for sisters, they also have an uncanny resemblance to Sally Rooney.
All three women are pale brunettes with shoulder length hair and fringe, sporting similar features.
Daisy Edgar Jones (right) in Normal People and Alison Oliver in Conversations with Friends – could easily be mistaken for sisters, they also have an uncanny resemblance to Sally Rooney (left)
All three women are pale brunettes with shoulder length hair and fringe, sporting similar features. Rooney is pictured left, and Alison right
In both book, Frances, the lead in Conversations with Friends, and Marianne, the main character in Normal People, are slender, dark-haired, attractive women.
Meanwhile they are also shy and introverted, as well as being intellectually gifted, much like Sally – who became one of the youngest ever winner’s of the Costa Prize.
In Normal People, Marianne is depicted as a talented an intelligent student, who one day just might be a writer herself.
In Conversations with Friends, Frances is a spoken-word poet who performs along with her friend Bobbi, similarly Sally was a keen debater while at University and won the European debating championships.
In Conversations with Friends, the characters also leave Dublin for a group holiday to Europe – this time, travelling to Croatia
In Normal People, the characters decamp to Italy, for several episodes where friends including Connell, head off to Marianne’s home in Trieste
In both series, characters are depicted as studying English at Trinity College Dublin – which happens to be where Rooney did her English and American literature degree.
Despite similarities with her lead characters, Rooney has insisted the books aren’t autobiographical and that she finds it ‘funny’ when people do.
Speaking to the Irish Times in 2017, she said she’s been questioned ‘loads and loads’ about her own life reflections in her story – including a radio host asking her at 9am in the morning if she’d ever had an affair with a married man.
‘I come on to talk about my book and I’m getting asked about my sex life. It’s so, so strange. So definitely on that level. But I made the mistake, in my opinion, of responding by saying “No”, when what I should’ve said was “It’s actually none of your business”’ she explained.
Normal People tells the story of Marianne Sheridan (played by Daisy Edgar-Jones, right), a loner who has never kissed a boy. The action starts in 2011 when she falls for Connell Waldron (Paul Mescal, left)
Intense: Daisy Edgar-Jones (L) and Paul Mescal (R) in the series, in which their characters fall in love in Sixth Form
However, she does admit that parts of her life inspire her writing.
‘Nothing’s completely fictional.
‘Frances moves in all the same social circles I moved in. She does the same degree I did in Trinity, so she has some of the same cultural position that I had, and it would be very dishonest of me to pretend it didn’t inform the way I went about writing the book’
Sally has also a lot of her writing style came from writing emails- something her characters do – and both Frances in Conversations with Friends and Connell in Normal People have stories accepted by literary magazines while they’re studying just as did Rooney herself.
In both series, characters are depicted as studying English at Trinity College Dublin – which happens to be where Rooney did her English and American literature degree (pictured, Marianne in Normal People at the university)
As well as the lead roles of Frances and Marianne, both Normal People and Conversations with Friends feature an ensemble cast of other twenty-somethings with above-average intellectual talents (left, Frances’ love interest and best friend Bobbi is a spoken word poet, while, right, Connell writes short stories)
Normal People is also set during the years of austerity when Sally herself was at University.
‘It would have been really difficult for me to write about young people leaving home in the west of Ireland, moving to college, and not confront the economic disparities that were emerging at that time, like the stripping back of protections for people from working-class backgrounds who were going to college,’ she told the Guardian.
The writer was born and grew up in Castlebar, a town of around 10,000, where she still lives now.
In Normal People, this is fictionalised as Carricklea, where lead Marianne can’t wait to escape from – which Rooney also said she longed for in her youth.