Asking For It by Louise O’Neill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I start, I stop, I start again. I’ve written this a thousand times and still I’m not quite sure what to say. Perhaps I’ll always be like this with O’Neill’s work, perhaps I’ll always be unmade by her language.
O’Neill’s second novel after the great Only Ever Yours, which I review here, is a searing, scalding scorch of a book. It burns, really, and it burns with something very acute and very particular and so very needed in the world.
Eighteen year old Emma O’Donovan lives in small town Ireland. She’s a beautiful, confident teenager with a circle of friends. One evening she goes to a party and the next morning, she wakes up on the front doorstep of her house. Blank. Bruised. She doesn’t remember what happened the night before, and it’s only when pictures start to circulate on social media that things start to become horribly into focus.
It’s not an easy read this. The inevitabilities of addressing rape culture means that the detail, at points, is almost unbearably explicit, but Asking For It is something that I wouldn’t hesitate to reccommend. I reccommend it really rather because of O’Neill’s voice in this and the way that each word stands up and begs to be counted. O’Neill unpacks the multitude of voices in this scenario and doesn’t give happy endings, she gives truth. Awful, unbearable, truth. And in that truth, she challenges the ideas of silence, of stillness, of acceptance, without ever parcelling up the ragged ends of the narrative into something neat and artificial. I welcome this book so much. It’s unsparing, blunt, raw, hideous, but it’s full of emotion in every pause, every tight and pained sentence, every moment. There’s so much here, spilled open, bare. Too bare.
I’m conscious that Asking For It will be a complex read to work with from the perspective of gatekeeper. As ever, read the book and trust your instincts. Do not go gently into that good night. Don’t let this brilliantly told voice and this hideous, awful story to be silenced. We need voices like this, that unpack and challenge the world, and there’s nowhere better for this voice to be speaking than in young adult fiction.