Review published on March 11, 2018.
Obsession and its consequences are examined in this bleak but biting look at “male chauvinism and female infatuation” – that’s not to say that these characteristics are gender-related, but they are what the book explores. After the totally amazing debut of Only Ever Yours and the powerful Asking For It, Almost Love feels like more standard genre, a Fatal Attraction-esque ‘behind the scenes’ look at a toxic relationship where both parties use the other. If you look closely at their affair, is either blameless?
At the start, I sympathised with Sarah, the art teacher wooed by a dad at Parents’ Evening, swapping flirty text messages and eventually agreeing to meet. Their relationship, if you can call it that, is one you cry out for Sarah to walk away from. But she doesn’t… it’s hard to understand what she is getting out of it.
While this is going on, we see Sarah again two years on, in another relationship, this time with Oisin (pronounced Ish-een), a decent sort of bloke who is quite clearly perplexed by her deteriorating amiability as she compares him to what has gone before and can’t let go of the past.
I lost my sympathy for Sarah quite early on – Matthew is slimy, controlling and completely undesirable. After one encounter, I couldn’t see what made Sarah return for more. She comes across as incredibly immature and still sees herself as a student rather than in a responsible position as teacher (often hungover and late for work). I wanted her to snap out of her peevishness with Oisin as well.
A very different book to O’Neill’s others, I was reminded of Elizabeth Haynes’ Into the Darkest Corner with the constant back and forth between time periods very close together and the intimate details of a toxic affair. But this isn’t crime and O’Neill, as she always does, looks at female issues – how men see and treat women, as well as this time what women need from men.
This for me doesn’t stand out in the way her first novel, and to some extent, Asking For It, do. I didn’t warm to character or plot particularly, and unlike some others, I didn’t really care what happened to Sarah at the end. I felt she needed to grow up. A bit cold of me, I know! For a writer to generate a strong feeling of any sort in a writer denote the power of their writing though, and O’Neill does give Sarah a strong (if not likeable) voice.
I accessed this as an audiobook, and the Irish-accented narrator was well-chosen: a young and slightly frivolous voice at the start becomes a more consumed and jaded woman later on.
This isn’t going to be for everyone, and there are some slightly distasteful sexual scenes (though not particularly graphic in content). It is quite dark – not one to take on holiday as a beach read, but it does give a lot of food for thought as to why women (especially) can become ‘needy’ with partners and how it can affect their lives.
Katy Noyes 3/4
Almost Love by Louise O’Neill
riverrun B07958LNJQ audiobook Mar 2018
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