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A heart-rending novel of dysfunction set mainly in DUBLIN

18th February 2022

Acts of Desperation by Megan Nolan, a heart-rending novel of dysfunction, set mainly in Dublin.

A heart rending novel of dysfunction set mainly in Dublin

Well. Where to start with this novel? The chapters are short and sharp and initially have a young girl’s voice, but that vibe changes over the course of the book, not to a more mature voice but a more cracked and desperate one.

Essentially it paints a bleak picture of the life of the narrator. We don’t know her name which in itself fits the narrative. She lives her life, now in her early 20s, through the eyes of others, her sense of self is so low that she repeats a self destructive pattern time and again.

She seeks solace and identity in sexual relations. Each time she connects to another human being that way, it leaves her more alienated from everyone around her. She turns to alcohol to numb the pain, she develops other coping mechanisms, she struggles with weight gain. She knows the pattern of her life is not working but her drive for self destruction is such that she chooses partners who reinforce her unconscious expectations. Random encounters with men further undermine her sense of self. She highlights the harm people can do to others with a simple one liner when they are on the attack.

She dates Cieran, breaks up with him at his behest, gets back together with him and finally they move in together, She plays wifey in the hope that nurturing him will somehow rebound on her. It doesn’t of course. She acquiesces, puts up with his silent treatment and domestically abusive ways but knows that what she feels for him his ‘love’. In fact what she experiences is psychologically speaking attachment, which means she cannot function without him, but with him she cannot be her fully fledged self.

In 2019 we know that she is in Athens, the occasional short chapter looking back over her life in the early 2010s.

It is heartfelt, it feels personal, it is poignant. She has so lost her way and I so wanted her to access therapy to understand more about her drive for self punishment. I think there are facets in this story  that – to a lesser or greater extent – many women can relate to and I am not surprised that it is an international bestseller. Her storytelling feels genuine and the narrative is well plotted. This is a corker but not an easy read. Amazon has it down, in part, as romance. Er, it isn’t that at all.

A similar read to this, raw and visceral, although more erotic, is Adèle by Leila Slimani

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