Ryan Tubridy is never shy about giving listeners his opinion of a book he’s read, so when he says that Megan Nolan’s Acts of Desperation is “a terribly unhappy book”, you might expect him to go further and say he didn’t like it or recommend we don’t read it. This course of action might be considered rude, though, as he’s talking to the novel’s author. But still, “a terribly unhappy book”? Well, as it happens, Waterford’s own Megan Nolan has written a book about a woman in a toxic relationship and the book necessarily reflects that. And, far from disliking it, Ryan liked it very much indeed. He started off his chat with Megan by asking her to give us a summary of the novel, which she duly did:
“It’s a book about a very toxic relationship, a very unhealthy relationship between an unnamed young woman in her 20s, who’s the narrator. And she’s a very compulsive, obsessive woman, who loves very easily and too much. And then she falls in love with this man called Ciaran, who’s this sort of cold, very remote character, very beautiful, very compelling because of how cold he is.”
The narrator’s obsession and Ciaran’s coldness lead the story to, Megan says, a very dark place. This is when Ryan ventures that Acts of Desperation is a “terribly unhappy book”. And Megan agrees with this description of her novel:
“It is. I always feel bad when I have to give it to anyone. I’m sure I’m going to ruin their day, you know?”
But it’s beautifully written, Ryan qualifies and it really draws you in – he finished it, he says, in about three sittings. The chapters of the book are short – a page and a half, maybe two pages – and Ryan felt that really added to the dynamic of the story. Megan didn’t plan it that way, but the brief chapters helped her tell the story:
“The kind of mood I had to get myself into to write it, when I was trying to really feel these feelings that the narrator would be experiencing in the relationship. And I was trying to think about the way that – when I’m very upset, in a very heightened level of emotion, you know, I don’t sit and think about the same thing for hours on end, I sort of have a lot of intrusive thoughts almost, and I wanted that to come across in the book.”
Back to unhappiness. Even when the narrator is happy, Ryan says, there’s always and edge to it. Again, Megan agrees, saying that the timeline of the story leaves the narrator dependant on someone else for her happiness and she’s not going to find it in that other person. Then there’s the sex, also unhappy. Ryan puts Megan in a troika of Irish authors – alongside Normal People author Sally Rooney and Naoise Dolan, author of Exciting Times – as portraying sex in a very negative way. As in, there’s lots of it, but nobody seems to be getting much fun out of it. Megan gave her take on her narrator’s sex life:
“She hadn’t learned to let it be a positive in her life, she’s using it almost as a weapon or as a way to get involved in things with men, the she wants, you know, that she wants to capture their attention. And she’s not actually learned to enjoy it yet.”
You can hear Ryan’s full conversation with Megan Nolan – including how much of herself is in the narrator, why she dropped out of university and how well Ryan thinks she writes about booze – by going here.
Acts of Desperation by Megan Nolan is published by Vintage.
Niall Ó Sioradáin
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