Almost Love by Louise O’Neill, published March 2018 by Riverrun.
Goodreads Synopsis: When Sarah falls for Matthew, she falls hard.
So it doesn’t matter that he’s twenty years older. That he sees her only in secret. That, slowly but surely, she’s sacrificing everything else in her life to be with him.
Sarah’s friends are worried. Her father can’t understand how she could allow herself to be used like this. And she’s on the verge of losing her job.
But Sarah can’t help it. She is addicted to being desired by Matthew.
And love is supposed to hurt.
I’m a big fan of Louise O’Neill, having previously read both her YA debut novel, Only Ever Yours, and her fantastic YA/Adult crossover follow-up, Asking For It, which let’s be honest is pretty relevant in Ireland just at the minute… In fact, Asking For It struck such a chord with me, that I went on to write #NotAskingForIt, which is still one of my favourite posts on this blog.
But back to Almost Love. When I discovered O’Neill was releasing a new book, and one aimed at adults this time round. I got excited. When I read the blurb on Goodreads, I got very excited. When I found out I would be in Dublin for a work event around the same time that she had been doing signings, which meant I would actually be able to get my hands on a signed copy, well I almost had kittens.
The slight problem was I had about 30 minutes before I had to catch my train home, and no idea which bookstores had signed copies. So feeling slightly optimistic after a vodka (or two – we did win an award after all), I decided to contact Louise on Instagram. Book Geeks, she replied! Thanks to Louise being an altogether down-to-earth and pretty fabulous human being, I got my hands on a signed copy and happily started reading it (slightly hungover) on the train home. Now, after I managed to squeeze my story in, on to my thoughts…
The Book Review
O’Neill has a pretty unique writing style that can appear at first to be mercilessly bleak, but really it’s an honest critique of the human condition, and it’s raw honesty that makes her novels relatable, anger inducing, and compelling to read – sort of like I-want-to-hide-behind-a-cushion-but-I-can’t-look-away. She doesn’t shy away from the inner thoughts most of us have/had, or the unpleasant situations we find/put ourselves in, but instead smacks them down in the middle of a page, right under our noses, and makes us a little bit uncomfortable with facing up to reality.
O’Neill presents us with a rather unlikeable character in Sarah, who can be morally grey, and throws her into a pretty crap and partially self-inflicted situation, before making us feel sympathy for her, while simultaneously making us pity her, and also definitely making us want to bang her head off a brick wall while screaming “wake up!”
It’s at that point that the horrible realisation dawns – we are all Sarah.
I have seen so many reviews where the reader resonates with Sarah’s story, either because they have experienced a similarly emotionally abuse relationship, or simply because we’ve all done the obsessive phone watching and texting-when-you-know-you-shouldn’t-because-he’s-clearly-an-asshole thing. I’ve also seen some reviews where the reader can’t understand Sarah’s attraction to Matthew, and knocks stars off their review rating because of it. Well, isn’t that the conundrum of abusive relationships? No-one, often including the victim, can understand the draw, attraction, or obsessive pull, otherwise it would be a whole lot easier to leave, wouldn’t it?
O’Neill’s writing being this interesting mix of fiction novel, meets critical essay, with a dash of observation on human behaviour, can make it difficult to review. I can’t measure this read purely on enjoyment, because there are times when it isn’t all that “fun” to read. However, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, it’s nothing if not honest. It’s a very accurate reflection of how messy life and relationships are.
I had HIGH expectations for this novel, and based on the blurb and the reviews, I was expecting something different than what I actually got. While I do think this is an important book, it wasn’t without its issues for me – Sarah is incredibly self-entitled, yet seems to lack the ambition or drive to actually go out and do something with her life, while being resentful of anyone else who has achieved anything, and at times she is also a pretty crap friend and daughter. I’m aware that humans are flawed, and that we can become all-consumed with our own problems and relationships, but Sarah’s bitch-o-meter was at 110 throughout.
While O’Neill’s work always has feminist undertones, in this piece it felt as though certain statements were included purely to make a point, whether or not they fit within the story structure or dialogue. As a self-declared feminist who reads quite a bit around the subject, this was still jarring to me, and took me out of the story.
Although Almost Love didn’t hit that 5* rating for me, I still think it’s a book worth checking out.
Have you read Almost Love, or any other books by Louise O’Neill? Let me know in the comments!