...the theme of obsessive love does not quite pack the punch that would make this a stand-out popular novel. Sexual dysfunction between consenting adults is hardly a new novelistic area, and O’Neill’s style and characterisation are simple, verging on simplistic...The most engaging aspect of the novel is its depiction of divided, insecure, post-boom, post-crash Irish society. Sarah has been brought up in a small town with traditional values, which is partly why she is so ill equipped to cope with life in multicultural, materialistic Dublin. It’s a milieu that was more successfully captured by Sally Rooney in last year’s most notable debut, Conversations with Friends.
The result is a protagonist who gives the reader just as little chance to love her as she does anyone else. Even Matthew’s awful behaviour is almost eclipsed by how unsympathetic she is – even as O’Neill depicts with chilling precision his indifference to her sexual pleasure, refusal to treat her with dignity and, via a series of viscerally cringe-worthy text messages, his greedy comfort in her excessive neediness. Had I not been reading this for review, I would have surely have skipped whole chunks of pages. With the relentlessness of Sarah’s bad behaviour and ugly thoughts, O’Neill has perfectly replicated the frustrating exhaustion of living in her protagonist’s head. Intellectually, I admire it. But it brought me little pleasure.