Acts of Desperation by Megan Nolan
Megan Nolan's debut novel is a heart-wrenching indictment of the gendered conditions that enable toxic relationships
When Acts of Desperation’s unnamed narrator meets the cool, enigmatic Ciaran at an art gallery, she is immediately, irrevocably enamoured, her overwhelming desire given a forensic, studied attention that sits at odds with its sweeping tenderness. Yet this latent tension, between stinging introspection and mundane meet-cute, sets the scene for a profoundly unromantic romance, a study of a relationship that calls into question the inescapably fraught politics of love between men and women.
This is, in many ways, a panic attack of a book, Nolan observing the unspoken power dynamics that characterise such relationships with a precision that is almost brutal. Yet what makes Acts of Desperation so remarkable is the emphasis Nolan maintains on her protagonist’s rich and considered interiority, transforming what could easily be a voyeuristic examination of emotional abuse into a stunning mediation on the ways in which society moulds female desire into a desperate, self-destructive animal. As the unnamed narrator looks back on Ciaran’s sullen mood swings, silent treatments, and increasingly controlling behaviour with a detached, bewildered shame, Nolan eschews a focus on his chilling behaviour for a sustained exploration of what drove her protagonist’s need to stay.
The result is a heart-wrenching indictment of the gendered conditions that enable such relationships, an unforgettable theorisation of female heterosexual desire and its inextricability from male violence. Lyrical and raw, Acts of Desperation is a vital intervention into the genre.