Grazia Book Club: A Bold Debut Exploring Obsessive Love

Megan Nolan's 'Acts of Desperation' is as compulsive as her anti-heroine's toxic relationship

Grazia Book Club Acts of Desperation

by Maria Lally |

At one point in this story, the narrator, a 23-year-old university drop-out, tells her readers, ‘I didn’t just love Ciaran, I loved him darkly.’ Ciaran is the cold, sometimes cruel writer who, as she puts it, ‘was the first man I worshipped’.

The book explores their often toxic relationship, one that will leave you feeling protective yet despairing of our nameless narrator. She’s obsessive, while Ciaran is indifferent. And readers may struggle to understand the attraction of sulky Ciaran, who hates her getting drunk, is rude to her friends and occasionally violent. But, as Nolan told Grazia, it isn’t as simple as that. ‘I started writing it when I was 25 and at the tail end of a couple of really bad relationships. Ciaran isn’t likeable, but it didn’t matter who he was, she’d have thrown herself into a destructive relationship with anybody who fell under her gaze at that time. I didn’t really want to analyse him, he’s almost incidental. I wanted to think about what was leading her. She behaves badly too, violently even.

‘When she encounters Ciaran, she feels she has nothing in her life of any meaning, and the way she approaches their relationship is burdened with so much responsibility. Nobody can bear that overwhelming responsibility for another person. And while it’s easy to dislike him, he’s setting boundaries that are ignored by her, so I do feel for him in a way.’

As we often forgive ourselves for past behaviours, Nolan admits she has softened her stance towards our narrator (who, it seems, is semi-autobiographical). ‘I wrote the book five years ago and, when I was in close proximity to it, I felt anger towards her. Now I look back more compassionately.’

We see our narrator drinking so much before a date that she throws up and bursts the blood vessels around her eyes, going on to sleep with a man she doesn’t want to. ‘He kept touching me and eventually I did what I had to do to stop him from wanting to have sex with me, which was to have sex with him,' the character explains.

The fact that Nolan is young and Irish and the story is Dublin-based and filled with young creative types has drawn inevitable comparisons to Sally Rooney, but this book takes even darker turns. It’s diary-like in parts, jumping from short, intense chapters to lengthier ones. ‘It’s almost an internal monologue of her thoughts,’ says Nolan.

‘If the novel was longer, there would be more time to think about things from the perspective of the men, but I wanted this to be about a woman’s perspective. That was the story I wanted to tell.’

Acts of Desperation by Megan Nolan (Vintage) is out now

Grazia Book Club gives its verdict

‘At times it felt like Nolan was holding a mirror up to my twenties. This captivating book is a dark account of what can happen when you get what you think you want.’ Fiona

‘I loved it. It’s thought-provoking and made me rethink some of my past behaviours. I started to care for her and in turn it made me realise I should be kinder to myself.’ Camille

‘A compelling but gruelling look into the inner workings of a codependent relationship. A damaged woman finds what she thinks is love with a cold, uncaring man.’ Chloe

‘Heartfelt and poignant, this is a story of dysfunction and repeat patterns of behaviour. Many women will be able to relate.' Bettina

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