REVIEW: Almost Love by Louise O’Neill

In brief: Sarah’s is a good relationship. But the one before with Matthew still haunts her. All consuming, it still haunts her.

The good: It was different – told the story warts and all which I really liked.

The not-so-good: Oh Sarah, couldn’t you have wised up sooner?

Why I chose it: Something a bit different, thanks Hachette for the copy.

Year: 2018

Pages: 313

Publisher: Riverrun (Hachette)

Setting: Ireland

Rating: 9 out of 10

I’ve always heard great things about Louise O’Neill’s books, but shamefully for me Almost Love is the first that I’ve read. It’s a story told bluntly, unapologetically and most of all honestly. It was utterly captivating and I couldn’t help but read and read and read until I’d finished. The story is refreshing in that it isn’t afraid to place at its centre a narrator that can be wholly unlikeable through her thoughts and actions. It also has that watching a car crash feel…you know that things are going to go from bad to worse but you are still mesmerised.

Almost Love tells the story of two relationships – now and then. What they have in common is that Sarah, the narrator/main character is in both of them. Now, she’s meant to be in a happy place in a healthy relationship with Oisin. But the gloss has worn off and things are niggling at Sarah. Oisin’s famous artist mum – Sarah’s lost her faith in her own ability as an artist, as a feminist, as someone who has it together. That Oisin can be messy or grumpy. She can’t help but point out his faults wherever – but it Oisin she’s truly annoyed at or is it herself? Before Oisin, there was Matthew. Their relationship (if it even existed, depending on who you ask) was completely different. A power imbalance, tipped wholly in Matthew’s favour. Sarah was reduced to a life waiting for whatever texts or hook-up he would deign to give her. She went willingly and it nearly destroyed her. Will the remnants of her previous relationship destroy this one or will they help her find peace?

Sarah’s a complex character, but she’s an honest one to the reader whether she’s telling the story in first person (then) or third (now). She is at times cringe worthy (like when she’s tearing Oisin down in front of his mates) and stupid (going on a massive bender on a weeknight). But she’s also terribly insecure and convinced that her past in a small country town with a dead mother and alcoholic father have put her far behind everyone else. Perhaps that’s why she’s so flattered when Matthew takes an interest. He’s an Important Man in Dublin with a successful real estate business and ex-husband to the former prime minister’s daughter. Everyone knows Matthew. Matthew is also a complete and utter tool. He wields the power over Sarah, dictating the time, place and duration of their hook-ups. Sarah doesn’t really want to do all the things she does with Matthew, but if he’s having a good time, then…well… Sarah waits and pines for Matthew who reduces her to a shell of her former self. She’s lost her best friend, her other friends are pulling away and she’s about to lose her job. Yet Sarah won’t let him see all this. She is all smiles and pandering to his needs, desperate for that recognition…

Sarah’s actions at times are awkward and stupid. I think Louise O’Neill does a great job of explaining Sarah’s motives and feelings behind what she does. Even though I wished at times Sarah would break free of Matthew, everything that she did fit in with her character. There were no outlandish actions that didn’t fit in. In the end, I felt really sorry for Sarah. She’s stuffed up multiple times and it has been her fault. While I don’t think we could be friends, I really hoped that she sorted her life into what she wanted. The story is raw and unnerving, possibly because we can see ourselves in some of Sarah’s actions/thoughts. Overall, it’s a fine read that you won’t be able to put down.

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