Louise O’Neill is an accomplished Young Adult writer with two award winning novels under her belt, Almost Love is her first foray in Adult fiction. ( Her third YA book; a feminist re-telling of the little mermaid – The Surface Breaks is due out in May 2018 )
Almost Love follows Sarah Fitzpatrick in both her past and present. Then: In a toxic and manipulative relationship with Matthew and now: In the present day, Sarah can be found mistreating her current boyfriend Oisín and longing after a man that made her no promises.
O’Neill is an unashamedly feminist writer and that shines through in her work. Once again she breaks through barriers in women’s fiction, she continues to write about topics that are shied away from, not talked about, brushed under the rug. . . She believes that even toxic people deserve to have their stories told, once again, she has written a ground breaking novel that everyone should read.
Almost Love shines a light on the painful, debilitating and isolating toxic relationships that women allow themselves to be a part of. O’Neill writes a compelling, thought provoking drama that encourages young women to consider the choices they make, to value the genuine friendships they create and most of all to value themselves.
The protagonist, Sarah Fitzgerald is so utterly unlikable it is very hard to keep rooting for her, we are given little opportunity to love or even like our heroine. She is petty, nasty and about as cruel as they come – but for some reason I just kept wanting the best for her. O’Neill paints Sarah in the context of her relationships to others and that connection is nearly always negative, she doesn’t appear to know how to love anyone, especially herself. We’ve all had tunnel vision about someone we’ve loved, we’ve all made mistakes, we’ve all ignored advice from friends and family – Sarah isn’t unique but O’Neill’s portrait of her is so raw, and so honest – it is at times uncomfortable.
The antagonist in this cautionary tale, Matthew Brennan, is a rich, successful, handsome older man but he comes across as an odious, repugnant excuse of a human being – he treats Sarah as a plaything, he affords her no respect, no dignity and no humanity. He finds comfort, even pleasure, in her neediness. O’Neill’s depiction of his behavior almost eclipses how absolutely horrible Sarah is – there is an underlying question that will not leave me alone. . . Does Brennan treat Sarah badly because he is a knob-end or because Sarah allows herself to be treated that way?
O’Neill forces us to confront the parts of ourselves we want to keep hidden – the vulnerability, the obsessiveness, the irrationality and the desperation, that uncontrollable drive to be loved. She forces us to ask why are we not enough? Why are we so preoccupied with being loved and why does society mold young women to compete for that love? Sarah espouses the idea that she is not interesting enough or not sexy enough to keep Brennan interested. . . Why do we teach young women that they need to be either? Or both?
This book broke me, it had me in tears wishing for years of my life back. It was powerful, moving and utterly heartbreaking. For me relating to Sarah wasn’t actually that hard – I was her or some form of her, for quite a number of years. I fell entirely, obsessively in love with someone who treated me no better than the dirt on the bottom of his shoe. I loved him so unconditionally, I failed to see that it was to the detriment of everyone and everything else in my life. My hope with Almost Love is that it stops one girl from falling down that rabbit hole.