Apart from a few tweets, I didn’t know a lot about Irish writer Megan Nolan‘s debut novel, Acts Of Desperation, just that it was pitched for fans of her countrywoman, Sally Rooney. Ding, ding, ding. So I gave it a go and… fuck me, it’s fucked up.
There are toxic relationships and then there are the toxic relationships in Nolan’s novel. The narrator is a young university dropout, who I just realised never told me her name. I feel like I know everything else about her. You will too, if you read her story.
Within the first few pages, the unnamed narrator gives herself wholly to an older, half-Danish poet named Ciaran. She worships him, he is the most beautiful man she has ever seen – his breath smells like truffles.
Despite the countless paragraphs dedicated to Ciaran’s whatever, it’s clear that he absolutely sucks. But the unnamed narrator doesn’t seem to care. She doesn’t care that he is cruel, or that the foundation of their relationship is built on soggy cardboard. Love, she says, is “the great consolation”, it’s her religion. If he doesn’t love her back, she will simply make him need her. She will seep into his every day until he can’t function without her.
There’s nothing romantic about the unnamed narrator and Ciaran; Nolan’s portrait of their relationship is unpretty and brutal. Even worse is her relationship with herself. When I mentioned toxic relationships before, I was also referring to the unnamed narrator’s relationship with her body, with sex, love, the world and society, food, alcohol, and men. With time, her ultimately doomed relationship with Ciaran twists into total self-destruction.
None of it is easy to read.
I usually inhale my books, but I just couldn’t do that with this one. It wasn’t because of Nolan’s writing – I actually really liked how familiar her tone felt, like she was speaking to me over a glass of something. Nolan’s words about love and desire were just so staggeringly real, they often left me breathless.
There are countless pages that I’ve marked to come back to, pages that literally made me groan and say, “Fuccccck” to myself. Nolan wrote words I didn’t dare speak aloud for shame and regret.
That’s what kept me reading.
I wouldn’t say I particularly enjoyed Acts Of Desperation, I don’t really like having chest pains during a leisurely read, but I’m glad I finished it. There was, for me, satisfaction in reading about a woman uncensored.
Acts Of Desperation by Megan Nolan is available now from wherever you buy your books.
With thanks to Penguin Australia for an advanced copy.