Asking For It by Louise O'Neill (proof) - 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... From Goodreads.
Before I start this review, I feel I should give some context about my love of Louise O'Neill's first book, and my anticipation for this one. People who follow me on Twitter and Once Upon a Bookcase will know by now what a huge fan I am of O'Neill's debut novel, Only Ever Yours. It affected me hugely, and I still rave about it to anyone who will listen, almost a year after first reading it. Even now, I'll remember something I read in those pages and something new will occur to me, making me think. Reading Only Ever Yours was a major turning point for me in terms of understanding society's treatment of women, and put me firmly on a feminist path. It blew me away, and I will continue to push it into the hands of everyone I can for being such a important, powerful and brilliant novel.
So you can understand how I have been eagerly waiting for Asking For It, O'Neill's second novel. I have just finished, and there are no words to describe how in awe I am of O'Neill. Asking For It is even more incredible than Only Ever Yours.
When Emma attends a house party, she expects it to be just like any other. She'll drink, she'll dance, she'll have fun, and she will be the most beautiful girl there. Girls will be jealous, and boys won't be able to take their eyes off her - as it is where ever she goes. She can have her pick of any of the boys, and that's just how she likes it. What Emma doesn't expect is to wake up the next morning on her front porch with no recollection of the events of the night before or how she got there. She doesn't expect her best friends to turn their backs on her. She doesn't expect the looks, the whispers, the malicious disgust-filled slurs thrown at her from everyone at school. She doesn't expect the photos, the explicit, degrading photos, that appear on Facebook. And, as she discovers what happened to her, the last thing Emma expects is for complete strangers to lay blame at her feet.
Asking For It is split into two parts; the first, the days leading up and immediately after the rape, and those same days a year later. I did not like Emma, but I could see the reasons for her being as she was. She had been brought up being told she was beautiful. Everyone told her so. Her mother ingrained it into her that being beautiful was important, and so her sense of worth was based on how she looked. Therefore she must be the prettiest at all times, and others must think she's the prettiest - she must be wanted, must be desired. Not only does she feel entitled to the attention she receives, but she needs it - who is she otherwise? I did not like her. But after she's raped - the rape she can't remember - she completely changes, becoming a mere shell of who she used to be. Despite how much I disliked her, it was unbelievably heartbreaking to see this change.
When Emma - and us readers - discover what happened to her, it's horrific. Realising that she was violated, raped, but also that photo after photo after photo was taken of her while it was happening, that these photos were put online, that everyone had seen them, and people were leaving such disgusting comments about her, about her body... being with her for this is so unbelievably hard. My heart bled for her, and I was feeling so much I had to stop reading. It was so painful, it was raw.It hurt so much, I was beyond being able to cry. I just sat there struggling with this unimaginable situation Emma was in, as her whole world crumbled at her feet.
And then things got worse. Not only did this happen to her, not only were those photos taken and seen by everyone, people blamed her. At the time it happened, and a year on. Emma made some bad decisions; she drank excessively and she took drugs. Because of this, and the short and low-cut dress she was wearing, people blamed her for what happened. The overheard conversations, the comments on the photos, the emails she was sent. The people discussing the "Ballinatoom Case" online, on radio, on TV, in newspapers. What did she expect? She was asking for it. The rage I felt! No-one seemed to realise that it doesn't matter what she was wearing, how much she drank, that she took drugs. No-one seemed to realise that she should be able to do these things without fear that she would be attacked and have control of her body taken away from her. The disgusting things people said, the excuses they made for Emma's attackers, the sympathy they had for them. Even the system, which seems to go in favour of the rapist than the victim! I got so angry! Then I got so scared, so, so scared. This is a story, fiction - but it's not. This happens; people are raped, and then they are sometimes blamed. People side with the guilty. Normal, every day people side with the rapists.
Reading about the immediate aftermath of Emma's rape was bad enough, but seeing how she was being treated a year later, the brilliant light O'Neill shines on rape culture... it's terrifying. Because you hear about it, and you know how disgusting it is, but until you see it through the eyes of the victim, I don't think we can really understand. And my heart broke. For Emma, for everyone who has been through this, for everyone who chose to suffer in silence rather than be on the receiving end of all this... . For everyone who has had the control of their body forcibly removed from them, degraded, violated, and told it was their own fault. The anger, the fear, the sadness. It's almost enough to make you lose hope in humanity.
But then you have O'Neill, and people like her, who give you hope by doing what they can to fight against rape culture. I have absolutely no doubt that Asking For It will do just what Only Ever Yours did. People will buy it, read it, talk about it... and it will make people think. It will open people's eyes. They will be as deeply affected as I have been. They will also get angry - because there is no-way anyone can read this and not get angry - and Asking For It will spread like wildfire. Because it's undeniably important and unbelievably powerful. And I believe, while it spreads, Asking For It will change lives.
Thank you to Quercus for the proof.
Published: 3rd September 2015
Louise O'Neill's Website