By Stephen Holland
In Megan Nolan’s debut novel, Acts of Desperation, we get a glimpse into the interior romantic life of an unnamed narrator, her co-dependent relationship with a boy named Ciaran, and the consequences of obsessive love.
Romantic attachments can be so frustratingly complicated. Sometimes from the outside it is easy to look at a relationship and see everything that is wrong with it. But just like the narrator’s friends in this book there is nothing you can do to stop it. You can see from the outset that the road she is walking down is paved with heartache and pain. That this is going to end in disaster. But unless you are the person in the relationship, you will never truly understand it.
But that is what Nolan does with this novel, she makes us understand. Told through first person we get to experience the anxieties, self-destructive tendencies, and hedonistic indulgences of a young girl in Dublin who craves validation from all the wrong places.
From reading other reviews it seems that this book has tapped into particular about the female experience, that through Nolan’s prose she has brought to life something about the nature of being a woman. But as a young man reading this novel, I still related far more to the protagonist than I did the cold ambivalent Ciaran, who I arguably have much more in common with.
The desire to be loved, the wholehearted willingness to throw yourself into a relationship, and the slow and tortious tedium with which it all begins to fall apart is something many people can relate to. While I am sure Nolan was not picturing me when she imagined her ideal reader, I still feel like I was able to relate to her protagonist in a real and meaningful way. Looking at the world through this character’s eyes, I was able to learn more about what it feels like to be a woman and gain insight into what it must be like to have a woman’s body in this world. A body which is simultaneously revered and vilified, a body that can be used to empower, or a body which can be exploited.
Megan Nolan is getting compared to Sally Rooney a lot and I can see why. They are both young Irish women writing about unhealthy romantic dynamics. But Nolan’s book feels much more honest to me, like the raw emotions are coming straight from her heart onto the page. The book is immensely readable, but also poetic and nuanced, with such universally relatable passages on the meaning of love and heartache. I hope this is the dawning of a new voice in Irish literature because I look forward to continuing to read her work.