... 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.
...the unnamed protagonist of Megan Nolan’s debut novel Acts of Desperation exists in a kind of semi-state of inebriation and debauchery that is magnificently, at times excruciatingly, depicted by an author whose mission seems to be to tell it like it is ... There is an emotional heft to the novel that many will call 'raw' but that would do a disservice to the level of craft Nolan applies to her subject matter ... With her narrator’s whipsmart tone, low self-esteem issues and penchant for sexual debasement, Nolan will likely be compared to contemporary writers such as Sally Rooney, Kristen Roupenian and Ottessa Moshfegh ... Her debut novel has a state-of-the-nation feel to it, with a strong awareness of the gender inequalities that exist in modern society ... Nolan has interesting things to say on how women are socially conditioned to hate their bodies from a young age and to fit into certain roles or feel guilty for not conforming ... There are many killer descriptions of this ilk in the book, moments of recognition for female readers.
It is frightening and feverish, compulsive and distressing, and as true-seeming a document of toxic and manipulative love as any published within memory ... Acts of Desperation is, in other words, that squirmy argument between the sexes from Midsommar spread over 250 elegantly written pages—a psychosexual thriller about the ecstasy and embarrassment of being a woman who has sex with, and who falls in love with, men ... Nolan’s book is nakedly emotional, passionate rather than dispassionate, and sometimes maximalist to the point of feeling reassuringly unfashionable ... tonally and thematically bodily and alive ... Certainly, a frightening passion animates the novel, so that whether or not any of its ugliest or most degrading scenes are based in fact, what remains is a sensation of uncanny voyeurism, as if reading it were tantamount to having experienced something nearly catastrophic.
Nolan’s writing is airless, obsessively interior and elegantly monotonous. For goodness sake, think of something beyond yourself, if only the weather, you want to yell at the narrator, and yet it’s impossible to tear yourself away ... Her implacable conviction in the rightness of all this makes the reader queasily complicit in her victimhood ... fits neatly alongside Normal People, but it’s also part of a wider spate of contemporary novels by young women who write against the conventional feminist narrative in which for decades heterosexual women have been encouraged to value themselves outside their relationships with men ... This is more than simple victimhood. This is a hard frank look at something uglier and more discomforting. It’s hard on the reader too, to be honest. I couldn’t stop reading Acts of Desperation, but I’m not sure I’ll want to read it again.
There are toxic relationships, and then there’s the relationship at the centre of Megan Nolan’s fearless debut. From compulsive beginning to violent end, the love affair between the novel’s narrator [...] and the older Ciaran, a half-Danish poet, is supremely messed up ... But the novel’s less lurid confessions are almost more disturbing ... It’s amusing, relatable, crushing. What galvanises the narrative in lieu of plot is the fierce urgency that Nolan, a New Statesman columnist, brings to her heroine’s musings. In particular, this is a book with plenty to say about victimhood and sexual violence, about the way women censor their own needs and ironise or eroticise their abasement. While some of this is provocative, it’s all rendered in prose that is bright and warm. Nolan’s gutsiest achievement, however, is reclaiming the female experience of love and desire in all its shades from lighter literature, making of it something frequently unpretty – unromantic, really – yet intensely vital and worthy of examination. Like some kind of fairytale quest, in doing so she frees her narrator.
In some ways, there’s nothing particularly remarkable about Acts of Desperation. Beautiful, troubled boy meets insecure, clever girl in Dublin anti-romance. To describe it in a nutshell gives it away. It is at once everything that’s in vogue right now and everything that’s open to ridicule ... It would be easy to underestimate this novel; to see this narcissistic voice as a flaw, instead of what it is: a device. It would also be easy to perceive its subject matter as indulgent and pathetic, rather than what it turns out to be: daring ... The book is a close and relentless portrait of addiction, and of the addict’s complicity in her own undoing ... The confidence of the voice is balanced by vulnerability. This is the trick to Nolan’s writing in general. It triumphs because it takes a risk: wades into embarrassing, mushy terrain and doesn’t let up ... There is an almost imperceptible bend in the way the story is told. As we read, we find ourselves hurtling towards an ending that is surprising, satisfying, subversive. But even without this ending, the book is deeply affecting ... It moved me.
There is so much to admire in this extremely impressive first novel, which captures an intense experience with clarity and style. It is fully itself, and flawless in its way. I also found it claustrophobic, and airless. This is obviously the point...These are scenes that Nolan evokes powerfully. But there’s more to the airlessness than the narrator’s claustrophobia. I found, as a reader, that there was also an airlessness in the moral vision ... the book never seems prepared to leave its contradictions open ... If the book feels airless then it’s partly because the narrator is being didactic, and doesn’t allow for the women who aren’t victims, the women who have negotiated the patriarchy in different ways, or the women whose victimhood is more genuinely inherent and tragically inevitable. There is so little world here, beyond the lovers. Even the diversity of voice introduced by the two time periods doesn’t let much air in, because there hasn’t been enough growth to allow amplitude, so the later sections tend to magnify the egocentrism with extra moralising ... Nolan is being billed by her publishers, as Sally Rooney was by hers, as the voice of a generation. But she doesn’t leave her generation much room for uncertainty. And some of the tropes defining young women in today’s literary fiction are beginning to feel slightly repetitious and constrained. It may well be that this is because young women’s lives really are repetitious and constrained, and defined by over-determined ideas of victimhood. It’s not that Nolan is wrong about victimhood, or the sources of oppression. It’s that she’s right in a way that doesn’t allow much room for novelistic transformation ... Yet there is plenty to celebrate here. For me the book’s much-needed bursts of oxygen came from the beautifully portrayed relationship between the narrator and her father.
A chronicle of a mostly plain, largely confused, off- and on-again love, as told by a narrator who’s as tormented by her passion as thrilled with it, this debut concentrates on the vagaries of desire with its attendant frustrations. And curiously, it does this in a spare, uncomplicated, and natural fashion that sets it apart from any formulaic romance ... Moody and introspective, the story ambles around, the two coupling and uncoupling, although sex itself, while frequent, is scarcely detailed, almost chaste? ... Acts is entirely simple, but feels universal — somehow charming and pure as a result of heartfelt nature and an authentic voice. The readers of Nolan’s Times column — at least those who praised it — are likely to enjoy it, and perhaps to relate, as will many.
... extremely strong ... is crucially extremely attuned to the narrator’s single-minded investment in becoming someone, even if for the moment it’s just someone’s girlfriend ... thunders through acute darkness throughout the entirety of its plot but ends on a similarly hopeful note, wherein the narrator wonders what she’ll think about now that she isn’t thinking about love or sex. I actually found this to be quite false. This narrator, this voice, will never stop thinking about love or sex; will never stop yanking herself down obscure corridors. She can find ways to be safe, but she can’t be free. None of us can.
Nolan squares her character’s predicament with contemporary feminist debates by emphasizing her protagonist’s sense of self-awareness and control—the power and deliberation she exercises in choosing to submit. It is a striking experiment with mixed results ... By the end of , with some distance, the narrator can see how damaging this kind of attitude has been—but, crucially, she still has admiration for that earlier self. This is a large part of what makes the novel so compelling. It retains, or perhaps conjures in hindsight, a reverence for its protagonist’s will to self-abasement as “steely and pure.”
... her self-awareness is profound and evocative ... heavy and designed to make readers feel uncomfortable, but its language is still stunning ... despite Nolan writing beautiful introspective lines, there seems to be little cohesion across the narrative. This is perhaps because the novel reads like a series of diary entries focused solely on the writer’s emotions and thought processes. The narrator preferred to 'tell more than 'show,' and this makes it difficult for the reader to fully comprehend her situation. She felt unreliable, despite her demonstrating some newfound insight as she looked upon her past. It’s evident that the narrator must have grown between the time of her relationship with Ciaran and the time at which she is recounting it, but couldn’t the narrator have also taken the time to enlighten her audience more? ... The plot reads as if some parts were left unfinished ... It might be frustrating, but it’s well done. Don’t we all know people who only consider their own narratives? This notion can inspire some reflection of our own actions, and that might be the best part of Acts of Desperation. Readers can see the sad, even ugly, parts of themselves within its narrator and gain new sympathies, knowing that we all can act in such similarly desperate ways.
This is a love story short on romance but long on its intoxication, related uninhibitedly by its self-aware narrator. Nolan, who writes a column for the UK’s New Statesman, plumbs her narrator’s emotions and experiences of love, sex, and solitude for a full portrait of the woman and her insightful preoccupation with being made 'real' by love or some other undefinable thing.