by Chloe Cowman
This is Cork native Louise O’Neill’s first Adult novel (as distinct from her previous two Young Adult themed works) and has, since its release, been dividing opinions everywhere you look. My own book club could not come to a cohesive decision; is it insightful and incisive or is it a conversation-starter but no more than that? Personally, I think it may be a mixture of all of those things.
Practically known now for her “unlikeable characters”, O’Neill has created perhaps the most unpleasant female protagonist of all with Sarah, a young art teacher living in Dublin, sacrificing everyone else in her life for the man twenty years her senior she is seeing. Sarah hopes Matthew will realise some day that he, in fact, loves her and can’t be without her but that seems extremely unlikely to even the most casual observer; Matthew is married, is a narcissist and uses Sarah for grotty sex in a grotty hotel room. But, and here’s the catch, he does tell her from the start that he doesn’t want a relationship. That doesn’t, and can’t, excuse his behaviour but still, Sarah plays a part in her own undoing, something you couldn’t have said about Emma in Asking For It or Frieda in Only Ever Yours (O’Neill’s two previous books).
This, if anything makes Almost Love more thought provoking. A common cry after reading this book has been: “God, I wish I could go back and give this to my teenage self”. Such is the recognisable and clumsy attempts at love from a young woman trying for a breezy “oh I don’t want a relationship, I’m a cool, easy going girl, just like a guy really”, of her actions and words.
The storyline is non-linear; we get flashbacks to when Sarah was in art college and first meets Matthew, very much at the expense of her best friend Fionn, right up to the present time, where she is in a relationship with a new man, Oisín. Sarah can’t seem to get any element of her life right and you could say she’s her own worst enemy, but she’s also a painfully damaged character, with a sad past. My feelings for Sarah are so complicated; she’s difficult and extremely unlikeable but also, she really needs help. At times, I wanted to slap her, other times I wanted to reach in and hug her and give her the name of a good therapist.
I still don’t know how I really feel about Almost Love, but I can say it’s an addictive read (I finished it in an evening) and it certainly got me thinking. Thinking about my own behaviour when I was younger, about the expectations and the roles placed on women by society and about the different types of love.
A difficult book to read at times but without a doubt, it’s an unflinching look at obsessive love and quite unlike any other book on the market right now.