Saturday 17 April 2021
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.theguardian - 2 month ago

Acts of Desperation by Megan Nolan review – learning to say no

A young Irish woman looks back on a toxic relationship in an impressive first novel with a niggling strand of moralism“There was no religion in my life after early childhood, and a great faith in love was what I had cultivated instead.” The narrator of Acts of Desperation is in her early 20s, living a makeshift, hungover life in a Dublin bedsit, when she falls in love with Ciaran. Happiest when in a sacrificial role, she gives everything to pleasing him, though he is cold, sometimes cruel, and still in love with an ex-girlfriend. Intimate scenes from the 2012-14 narrative of their relationship are interspersed with essayistic commentary by the narrator from 2019. Megan Nolan is a journalist whose New Statesman column tackles some of the issues of millennial womanhood the book addresses, but the essayistic sections aren’t quite in her journalistic voice.There is so much to admire in this extremely impressive first novel, which captures an intense experience with clarity and style. It is fully itself, and flawless in its way. I also found it claustrophobic, and airless. This is obviously the point – the narrator wilfully removes herself from any sources of energy, letting life narrow to the flat she shares with Ciaran: the effortful meals she assembles in the kitchen, the increasingly joyless sex they have in their bed, the masochistic fantasies described in her diaries, the bottles of wine drunk secretly. These are scenes that Nolan evokes powerfully. But there’s more to the airlessness than the narrator’s claustrophobia. I found, as a reader, that there was also an airlessness in the moral vision. Continue reading...


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