Things are not going too well between Sarah and her partner. Is it just because her job as a teacher exhausts and frustrates her? She is an artist, but has never been good enough to really succeed with her paintings, not like her mother-in-law to be or her best friend. When she flees their home one afternoon, she by coincidence meets Matthew and all comes up again. The man she loved like never before, the man she would have given up everything for – the man she has given up everything for and destroyed so much. But he is still Matthew and there is something in her that makes the old feeling, she thought she had overcome, show up again.
After reading the blurb, I expected a story with an unhealthy love addiction and intense feelings on the part of the female protagonist. I was quite sure to feel compassion for her obsessive love and what it makes with her, yet, I mainly hated Sarah, even more than Matthew, which made it a bit difficult to really enjoy the novel.
So, why didn’t I feel pity for her? First of all, she is incredibly arrogant. When still young, her best friend from university gets the big chance of an exhibition, but instead of being happy for him, she envies him and is convinced that it should have been her. Second, her father obviously is quite lonely in their remote village and he always tries not to put her under pressure and to tolerate her awful behaviour, but she treats him like an old imbecile. Yes, he might not have been the perfect dad when her mother died – yet, he also lost his beloved wife and needed time for himself and his grief. Her school friends are just places she can dump her personal dramas, she doesn’t care about their problems and feelings and even doesn’t realise when she spoils her former best friend’s wedding. The current relationship is marked by her evil behaviour towards her boyfriend. No, he cannot do anything right, she only snaps at him and looks down on him. All of this is not necessarily linked to her obsessive love, not, she is just a very mean person.
When it comes to her flashbacks and memories of the time with Matthew, well, it is the classic constellation: a successful man in the middle of his life meets the naive girl who falls for him and somehow she succumbs to the illusion that he might also fall in love with her. Her whole behaviour – bombarding him with text messages, dropping everything when he calls, accepting all his wishes in their shabby hotel room, being subservient in any imaginable way – well, that’s something that might happen, but over months without understanding what is going on? That she is never at his side in public, but hidden in a hotel room where he doesn’t even have the time for a proper conversation with her? At least, she can serve as a cautionary tale.
I am not sure if I find Sarah’s character authentic and thus could really believe the story. Nevertheless, it captivated me somehow and I almost read it in just one sitting which definitely speaks for Louise O’Neill.