... wrenching ... Nolan is likely to draw facile comparisons to her brilliant compatriot Sally Rooney, whose work also turns a spotlight on power dynamics in relationships, but that move won’t do justice to the darkness in this book ... the narrator, in her very early 20s, feels painfully young at times. Here and there, the reader finds herself thinking, Snap out of it! Ciaran isn’t even that great! Then remembers that the details, even the man, are not the point ... Our narrator is lost to a devotion that borders on the religious. Here, Nolan often slips into cliché, drawing analogies to redemption or purification through love ... But elsewhere Nolan’s writing gleams with dark precision. Her narrator’s piercing, almost perverse self-awareness makes the action both more sad and more urgent ... Nolan performs her feminist fluency and conveys all the while a sense of fatigue, an acknowledgement that this is both new and not new. There is a sameness to all our stories. The decision to hold in suspicion the very form she is enacting is what makes the book refreshing and complex. What Acts of Desperation illuminates best is the chasm, sadly still enormous, between feminist politics and personal predicaments of love, sex and romance ... The novel is a powerful counterweight to the notion that young women today are free to define themselves apart from men. Nolan shows that as long as we are grappling with ideas about women’s desirability that have been authored by men, women are in a sense realized by the male gaze.
Please believe the hype. Please do not roll your eyes and say 'not another Sally Rooney'. Nolan is not another Sally Rooney. She is another seriously exciting writer who happens to be young and female and Irish. Those are broad categories. Nolan’s book describes a very particular experience and it does so with rare intelligence and courage ... The star feature of Nolan’s narration is her ability to cut through received ideas about women, relationships and even rape. We get the angry, vain, selfish woman as well as the supplicant, the self-harmer, the victim. We get a real person. Ciaran is sketched in less detail, but is still, impressively, seen in the round, never merely as the villain of the piece ... Nearly 300 pages is a long time to sustain a first-person voice without risking airlessness. Towards the end I wished for a little more showing and a little less telling. The novel’s key dramatic event is arguably too crude a climax. These are tiny niggles. Mostly I was transfixed with admiration and visceral horror. I knew a Ciaran once, and this novel is an extraordinary likeness — not of the man, but of the mechanism, the way you get from hopeful 'hello' to acts of degrading desperation. Nolan’s headlong, fearless prose feels like salt wind on cracked lips. You wince and you thrill.
... ruthlessly peels back the ego to expose the soul’s most discomfiting corners ... Ambivalence at the prospect of another ‘millennial novel’ is forgivable, but Nolan’s narrative voice is disarmingly distinctive ... It’s not trying to be cool, or blame the internet; yet it’s self-aware, self-mocking, consciously literary ... submerges you in her interior life with Knausgaardian intensity ... In the theorising passages where she rakes herself over, the novel’s origins as essays are apparent. If you’re thinking it sounds like navel-gazing, you echo the ex-boyfriend who calls out her self-absorption: ‘You always think your pain is the most painful’ – but isn’t that part of being human? ... examines our capacity to seek out and romanticise suffering ... [Nolan's] rejection of cliché and a savage honesty bordering on masochism recall writers such as Elena Ferrante and Jenny Diski ... As the furore around the Framing Britney Spears documentary refocuses our gaze on a public exploitation of female vulnerability, Nolan’s portrait of a relationship warped by obsession and low self-worth excavates our private hearts ... Subverting traditional love stories, it illuminates the fragile tension between power and desire; the inequities of a hook-up culture where a woman’s erotic capital shapes her identity and experience; and the modern deification of love – ‘The One’ now hunted with the cultish fervour once reserved for securing a spot in heaven ... Not everyone will fall for Acts of Desperation, but those that do will feel profoundly understood.