Almost Love is a book about obsession and infatuation. Despite the title, it’s certainly no love story.
We first meet Sarah, a frustrated artist in her late twenties, when she’s living with her boyfriend Oisin. Though the pair were once madly in love, Sarah has become disillusioned with Oison, constantly picking fights with him. And worst of all, Sarah can’t stop thinking about Matthew, a man from her past. Three years ago, Sarah and Matthew (who is twenty years her senior) had a torrid and toxic love affair that left her broken and vulnerable.
Can her relationship with Oisin heal the wounds Matthew left behind, or will Sarah be unable to let go of the past?
I went into this book with insanely high expectations. I absolutely adored O’Neill’s YA books, Only Ever Yours and Asking For It. Both were five star reads for me, and turned me into a huge fan of O’Neill (and of course, her feminist agenda). Given that Almost Love (O’Neill’s first book written for adults) features a narrator very close to my own age, I actually expected to love it even more than her earlier works, which had a much younger target audience. Unfortunately . . . I don’t think I quite “got” this book. Yes, it was brilliantly written and just as raw and insightful as her earlier books, but for some reason, Almost Love didn’t resonate with me like O’Neill’s first two books did. When I finished reading it, I actually felt a bit confused. I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to take away from the book, or what the point of it was. So I watched a few interviews where O’Neill discussed the book, and I do think I now have a better understanding of Almost Love, but ultimately, I liked the book, but didn’t love it.
However, I do still think that O’Neill is amazing, and I absolutely adore the way that all her works are infused with her feminist perspective. All of her books that I’ve read (which is all of them except The Surface Breaks) discuss issues of equality and sexual politics, and because of this I feel that O’Neill is a very important figure in contemporary literature. Her depictions of the power dynamics between men and women are raw, unflinching and heart breakingly honest. O’Neill is not afraid to shine a light on the darker aspects of male / female relationships, and the result is far from pretty. Her books will make you angry. They should make you angry. O’Neill’s works aren’t just stories; they’re a impassioned cries for women to take up arms and destroy the patriarchy that has done them no favours. At least, that’s how I felt about O’Neill’s first two books. Her criticism of the patriarchy is very much still present in Almost Love, but when I finished the book, I felt more sad than empowered.
Almost Love tackles sexual politics in a very literal way, as learn the dark details of Sarah and Matthew’s relationship. From the beginning, Sarah is infatuated with Matthew, becoming increasingly obsessed with him. Matthew, however, is fairly indifferent to Sarah. He texts her when he feels like it and meets up with her when he wants sex, but ignores her with a casual sense of cruelty for the rest of the time. Yet, the more disinterested Matthew is, the more Sarah craves his approval. In Sarah’s desperation to win Matthew’s love, she’s willing to destroy friendships, put her career in jeopardy and ignore her father (ironically, Sarah treats her father similarly to how Matthew treats her – ignoring him most of the time and contacting him only when it suits her). Matthew suffers no ill consequences from their relationship. He gives up nothing, loses nothing; whilst Sarah brings her whole world crashing down because of the intensity of her feelings for him. Their sex life mirrors this lack of equality; Sarah buys lingerie to impress Matthew, performs acts she finds degrading, and fakes all of her orgasms. Meanwhile, Matthew treats Sarah like a prostitute, using her body for his own gratification and giving her no satisfaction of her own.
Ultimately, I don’t think Almost Love is an enjoyable book, but I do think that it’s an important book. Honestly, I wish I’d read it when I was in my early 20’s. As a married woman in a happy and loving relationship, I couldn’t always relate to Sarah’s situation. However, I’ve certainly come across plenty of Matthew’s in my time and I believe I would have found this book invaluable when I was single. And while I admit to being a bit confused about what the book’s message really was, what I got from it was this: far too many women devalue their own sexual pleasure, feeling that it is their responsibility to please, not to be pleased. And in relationships, many women continue this trend of giving too much of themselves; losing sight of who they are and what they want in order to make the men in their lives happy. These are sad issues, and ones that are well worth discussing. If you’ve read this book, please let me know what you thought of it! Like I said, as much as I love O’Neill, I don’t feel like I’ve 100% made up my mind about how I feel about Almost Love, so I’d be curious to hear more opinions on the book.
My rating: 3.5 stars