Ouch. I’ve finished my latest read and it has left me sore, the story within like an open wound, making me wince whenever I recognised a bit too much of myself in its pages. Louise O’Neill, author of ‘Almost Love’, is one of my favourite voices around because she writes with such unflinching honesty no matter what the topic. She is prepared to face down taboos and lesser said thoughts and feelings, dragging them on to the page and into the light to be examined. Although reading her books may leave you with more than a tear or two rolling down your cheek, they are cathartic and honest, reflecting how life is and not how we want it to be. Another author I wish had been around when I was younger to reassure me.
One of the things I love most about O’Neill’s work is that she doesn’t strive to make her characters likeable, what is important is that they are depicted so truthfully you feel they could walk off the page. It seems to me she wants to press the importance of how necessary it is for us to still be able to stand side by side with a woman/girl who has been through hell and back, no matter what character assessment we make of her. The truth is still the truth, experiences just as affecting, and as a society we have to be there for all, not just those who seem the ‘perfect victim’. Life, and people, aren’t perfect, and that’s ok.
Almost Love is a novel that flits back and forwards over the period of 4 years or so of our protagonist Sarah’s life, each chapter alternating ‘Now’ and ‘Then’ so we know where in her timeline we find ourselves.
Sarah moved to Dublin, away from her small town life and father, after finishing art college. Moving in with a group of friends she watched as their careers took off, while hers seemed to…stall. With no faith in her art work she soon stops trying entirely, taking a teaching position in which she certainly isn’t the most reliable faculty member.
Life is further tilted on its axis when she meets a much older, much wealthier man who quickly has her under his spell. Sarah is infatuated, and despite warnings from those around her not to get in to deep, she pays little attention and before she knows it finds herself adrift from all her previous ties. As we jump back and forward in her narrative her story unravels and we watch as the effects of this blinkered love become clearer to us. Is love meant to hurt this much and will she find her way home again? I so often wanted to scream at her but then immediately wrap her up in a hug as well.
I loved how O’Neill brings in discussion of feminism in her work, with this story raising some great points. A lot of the feminism in play with these characters comes from quite an academic back ground, and I wanted to applaud when Sarah poses questions about how applicable this ‘brand’ of feminism was that she found in the books/academia around her to women like her mother, who worked full time in a more traditional working class role.
There are also interesting looks at the nature of imbalance in relationships caused by money, misogyny running amok and complex family relationships.
Whether you’ve lived experience of what Sarah goes through or you know somebody else who has, I can’t imagine this book not reaching out to each reader and relating to them in its own specific way, and what more can you want from a story?
Almost Love by Louise O’Neill £14.99 (Riverun – Quercus)
Are there any books you wish you’d read as a teenager? Do you think they would have altered your path or would you have charged on anyway? I like to think that even if I’d carried on making all my mistakes they would have planted a voice in my head to help me manage the bumps in the road.
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