Asking for it – Louise O’Neill
It has taken me a long time to arrange my thoughts on this book in a coherent manner and even then, its still not particularly ordered, as such, this isn’t going to be my usual style of review, its more of a collection of thoughts because this book certainly got my mind racing and I feel like I need to find other people who have read it so we can discuss! Warning – there will be spoilers below, so please avoid if you’re planning to read the book!
It’s the beginning of the summer in a small town in Ireland. Emma O’Donovan is eighteen years old, beautiful, happy, confident. One night, there’s a party. Everyone is there. All eyes are on Emma.
The next morning, she wakes on the front porch of her house. She can’t remember what happened, she doesn’t know how she got there. She doesn’t know why she’s in pain. But everyone else does.
Photographs taken at the party show, in explicit detail, what happened to Emma that night. But sometimes people don’t want to believe what is right in front of them, especially when the truth concerns the town’s heroes…
Trigger warnings for you: this is the story about an unpleasant eighteen year old girl who goes to a party with the aim to have a good time and is found on her porch the following morning by her parents with no memory of the night before, but there are plenty of pictures on snapchat and Facebook that everyone at school has seen. From that moment on, Emma becomes an outcast, the group of boys that did everything they wanted with her unconscious body become the victims of a girl who was ‘asking for it’ and in doing so, has ruined their lives. Everyone from the vicar to the local police care more about these boys destroying their college prospects rather than the fact that they clearly don’t understand the concept of violating someone. I have always thought I was pretty black and white about this kind of subject – no means no, no yes means no, being unconscious definitely means no. Consent is the only way forward. I have educated myself on rape culture, on the idea of victim blaming, so this book should be very straight forward. It isn’t. Louise O’Neill makes Emma such an unlikeable character that I found it difficult to sympathise with her. Hence, my turmoil over my feelings from reading this book.
I read Wrecked earlier in the year which has similar themes, and while I found that book quite difficult in the sense that you were never really sure which person was telling you the whole story, this was difficult on a whole different level. I don’t think anyone is supposed to like this book, but the writing was so much better, the characterisation was so much better. With Wrecked, we were told the story second hand, whereas this was narrated by Emma, we were witnesses to her trauma and with the various high profile cases that I’ve heard about, this was so much more shocking because this was much closer to home. And yet… I still had to struggle to feel sorry for her, to not feel a little bit like karma had just handed her the card she deserved. WHICH IS TERRIBLE. I hate myself for thinking this about anyone, let alone a fictional character, I know she didn’t deserve it. I know her being a bitch doesn’t automatically mean she should be the victim of such a horrific crime. I guess that’s what this book does so well, it takes the idea that literally anyone can have this happen to them and regardless of who that person is, they still have a right to feel safe and loved and supported.
When the book starts we meet Emma. Emma who manipulates her friends, who disrespects her parents, her teachers and the people around her. Emma who thinks she’s so far above everyone else at school. Emma is, and there is no other word for it, a bitch. Then this horrific thing happens to her and like the rest of the town, I can’t help it. I can’t help but not feel sorry for her to start with. As the book went on and I battled my own inner prejudice and started to really understand how Emma is feeling. Obviously, regardless of whether or not Emma is a nice person or a nasty person, she did not deserve to be violated and she did not deserve the treatment she continued to receive afterwards. The fact that Louise O’Neill makes you really wrestle with your conscience over this fact shows just how brilliantly this book is written. Because yes, this is a brilliant book. It may make you uncomfortable, but it is brilliant.
Turns out I still haven’t given myself enough time to properly think about this book. Anyone else read it? How did it make you feel? Let’s discuss!