Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill (ARC) - In a world in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, women are bred in schools, trained in the arts of pleasing men until they are ready for the outside world. At graduation, the most highly rated girls become "companions", permitted to live with their husbands and breed sons until they are no longer useful.
For the girls left behind, the future – as a concubine or a teacher – is grim.
Best friends freida and isabel are sure they’ll be chosen as companions – they are among the most highly rated girls in their year.
But as the intensity of final year takes hold, Isabel does the unthinkable and starts to put on weight...
And then, into this sealed female environment, the boys arrive, eager to choose a bride.
Freida must fight for her future – even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known... From Goodreads
I knew I had to read this book as soon as I heard about it. As a woman, I knew it would make me rage, I knew it would sicken me. But I was in no-way prepared for how absolutely horrifying it would be.
In a world where woman are genetically engineered, designed to perfection, with the sole purpose to please men, freida and isabel are starting their final year. At the end of the year, it will be decided if they will be a companion to a man, being his wife and baring him sons; a concubine, living out life in a harem, providing sexual gratification for any man who wants them; or a chastity, a nun-like woman who lives a life of quiet selflessness or as a teacher at the School. There are only ten men who can choose from the 30 available girls - only ten will become companions. Everyone is eager to be the most beautiful, and competition and cattiness is encouraged, as is self-hate and the desire to always look better. In this final year, while all are excited and eager to see what the outcome will be, isabel starts putting on weight and neglecting her appearance. frieda cannot believe what her best friend is doing, but if she wants any future for herself, how can she be seen to feel anything but disgust for her friend?
My little summary barely scratches the surface about what you'll find in Only Ever Yours' pages. The first half of this book is dedicated to showing just what nasty and cruel bitches girls can be. The venom that comes out of the girls mouths, disguised as advice to help their peers improve, is disgusting. Beauty is everything. Making others doubt their beauty is paramount. Judging everyone is not only encouraged, it's a class. Two girls will be put against each other, and the rest of the class will discuss their physical strengths and weaknesses in comparison, no holds barred. It's the bitchiness between girls at real schools heightened to unimaginable degrees. And yet... it's not that far away from what happens at schools, from what a group of women will say when flicking through a magazine and judging celebrities. And the self-hatred, oh my god. If someone is prettier than you, then you are not pretty enough. You are ugly. You are failing. Failing is not an option. So you starve yourself. Or you make sure you use the Vomitorium if you're eating too much. Or you take medication to help you sleep, because dark circles are inconceivable. Being beautiful means you're popular. Being beautiful and popular means you'll be liked by men. The lenths these girls will go to to be liked by the Queen Bee megan are attrocious. And that's without touching on how they're supposed to behave. Women don't cry, women don't get angry, women don't get hysterical. Women are agreeable and happy and pleasant and calm. Inappropriate behaviour will be punished.
In this part of the book there is a lot of talk about the purpose of a woman - to please a man, but the main focus is on the competition. This comes out more towards the second half of the book, and it's then when the book gets even more disturbing. You might have noticed none of the girls names start with a capital. Women are subhuman and are not deserving of a capital letter at the beginning of their name. Women having wants? What? Women are not here to want, they are here to please, in any which way a man requires. "Feminist" is a dirty word. frieda. Poor frieda. She tries so god damned hard to do what's right, to be popular, to be beautiful, to become a companion. Her conscience constantly fights with her desire to get the right life. She is brainwashed and manipulated. She is so desperately unhappy, but she has no control.
The last third of this book is where it becomes horrifying. O'Neill does a marvellous job of building it up - just when you thought you couldn't be any more disgusted with this world and it's treatment of women, O'Neill throws something else at you. The ending is absolutely terrifying - not just forwhat happens, but for how the characters feel. I finished this book absolutely numb with shock. I am so far beyond righteous indignation, so far beyond disgusted. I am overcome with anguis for frieda, for isabel. For the women of this world, no matter what they think of the world they live in. I know better.
I did not enjoy this Only Ever Yours, but it's not a book to be enjoyed. It's a book to shine a light on the treatment of women. Of how they are seen in society. Of how they are judged by men and other women. Of what worth is placed on a woman, if a woman has any. It's hard-hitting, it's thought-provoking, and it's absolutely incredible. I don't think I've ever read a book quite like it. No review I could write could ever do it justice. It's a brave book, and it's a triumph.
Thank you to Quercus for the ARC.
Published: 7th August 2014
Louise O'Neill's Website