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Asking for it : Louise O’Neill

Asking For ItAsking 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.

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Book Reviews

Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill

Only Ever YoursOnly Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished Only Ever Yours last night and laid there for a while, thinking about how I could review this book. There is a problem for me here, and it’s one concerning my own narrative. It’s taken me a long time to figure out who I am. It’s a process which is ongoing and one, I think, which has not yet ended. And so, as a result of that (and I’m sure it’s a process a lot of other people are similarly undertaking) a lot of this text hit home. Too close to home, maybe, and for that I loathe and admire it deeply.

Only Ever Yours makes me both love and despair; it is a fierce book. It is a searingly acute book, one which cuts very very deep. The space that this book exists is bordered with fire and flame and rage and it is perfect and it is awful. Oddly enough, it reminds me of some of the thoughts I had over The Bunker Diary. There’s some commonality here, and its a commonality I need to reflect on.

So. How to review Only Ever Yours? Perhaps bullet points, for my thoughts are still incoherent and turbulent with fever over it.

– There is a part of me that wants to thrust this into the hand of every young person who’s watching and reading narratives that do not feature who they are.

– O’Neill’s writing took a while for me to get into but once I did, I was very much part of this story. There are some vividly stark stylistic touches: the female characters all have lower-case names, the men do not. The subtlety of this text at points is perfect.

– The female characters, in their lower-case situation, are bred and designed as partners for men. Those who are not good enough (not slim enough, not pretty enough, not docile enough) either then act as concubines or return to the school to teach as chastities. The story follows the build up to this choosing ceremony.

– This book is very, very searing. It is so sharp. And now, post reading, as I begin the process of disentangling it from myself, I am not sure that I want to let it leave. I don’t think I should.

– There is a scheme called Books on Prescription that runs with a lot of public libraries. These are books that are written out on prescription by a GP. I quite genuinely think that Only Ever Yours should be amongst them.

– This book is so awfully good. There’s a part of me that thinks it might be held up as a classic some day.

– Somebody shared a quote on my Facebook the other day. It seems fitting to share it here.

“You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female’.” – Erin McKean

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