My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: General Fiction
Published by Quercus Books/ riverrun, March 7th 2019
When Sarah falls for Matthew, she falls hard.
So it doesn’t matter that he’s twenty years older. That he sees her only in secret. That, slowly but surely, she’s sacrificing everything else in her life to be with him.
Sarah’s friends are worried. Her father can’t understand how she could allow herself to be used like this. And she’s on the verge of losing her job.
But Sarah can’t help it. She is addicted to being desired by Matthew.
And love is supposed to hurt.
This book broke me, quite literally. I have rarely had such a visceral reaction to a book as I had this time and I am quite unsure how to talk about it. For this very reason, I feel the need to start this review with a disclaimer: I saw so much of myself in the main character and her experiences and behaviours that I cannot be objective about the literary merit of this book but I can say with absolutely certainty that the emotional core of this book was intense.
Told in two timelines, then and now, this book traces Sarah’s twenties. The past is told in first-person and tells of her increasingly destructive relationship to Matthew Brennan, a man many years her senior who treats her abysmally. The present is told in third person, Sarah is in a new relationship but still as ever self-hating and increasingly horrible to everybody around her. We closely follow Sarah, who is in no way an easy person to spend time with, and are always privy to her self-destructive thoughts and tendencies in a way that I found highly effective and extremely claustrophobic. Sarah is, for lack of a better term, a mess. For me the past narrative work better; the intimate first person narration made it a difficult but rewarding experience; present day did not quite hold my interest at all times but managed to show just how broken Sarah is in a way that made my heart hurt.
Louise O’Neill shines an unflinching light on why a person might stay in a toxic situation way longer than they would have ever thought beforehand. Matthew is a horribly disinterested in Sarah as a person except for brief interludes when he wants sex. The sex scenes are uncomfortable to no end, Matthew showing less than zero interest in making the experience pleasurable for Sarah who does not feel like she can tell him to stop. He belittles her and makes her feel bad for being the person she is. These scenes hit me incredibly hard: In my second and third year of uni, I dated this gorgeous, brilliant, funny Norwegian with the most beautiful accent when he spoke German with me – and who never let me forget that I am not the kind of person he wants to spend the rest of his life with (too feminist, too vegetarian, too not blond enough, too abrasive, too not feminine enough and so on) or maybe I never let him forget that he was not the person I wanted to grow old with (this might very well be true as well, relationships are rarely as one-sided as I would like to make this one seem). O’Neill captures the particular heartbreak that comes from a relationship like this incredibly well. While this made for a very difficult reading experience for me, it also impressed me to no end. I am so very glad to have read this.
I received an DRC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Quercus Books in exchange for an honest review.