Hello everyone and welcome back to The Bookworm’s Fantasy! I hope you’re all well. Today I’m going to be posting my review of Louise O’Neill’s incredible novel ‘Asking For It’. Before I kick off the review, I just want to warn you all that this book covers the very sensitive topic of rape culture and sexual assault, and I will be including references to that in my review. If that’s an issue for you, I would advise that you skip this post and read one of my other reviews instead. So, here we go…
In a small town where everyone knows everyone, Emma O’Donovan is different. She is the special one – beautiful, popular, powerful. And she works hard to keep it that way.
Until that night . . .
Now, she’s an embarrassment. Now, she’s just a slut. Now, she is nothing.
And those pictures – those pictures that everyone has seen – mean she can never forget.
** TRIGGER WARNING ** Contains references to sexual assault (rape), mental illness and various substance abuse
‘Asking For It’ was released on 3rd September 2015 as a hardback, and on 7th July 2016 as a paperback. This is O’Neill’s second book, following on from her debut ‘Only Ever Yours’. ‘Asking For It’ was awarded Book Of The Year at The Irish Book Awards 2015, and O’Neill is certainly an incredible new author to watch out for.
This YA novel has received a lot of very positive praise. To name a few, Guardian stated ‘This story will haunt me forever. Everyone should read it’, New York Times said it is ‘Riveting and essential’, Stylist called it ‘A brutal and shocking novel that strikes to the heart of the current debates around consent’, and Elle dubbed it ‘A difficult, confronting and vital read’.
‘Asking For It’ is a book that will undoubtedly stay with me for a very long time; it’s absolutely incredible. The narrative essentially follows Emma O’Donovan, who is the victim of disgusting and disturbing acts of sexual assault at a party one night. Explicit photos are then posted on the internet of her, and everybody she knows sees them. We follow Emma leading up to the event, during the event and after the event, with the majority of the novel focusing on the aftermath of the attack.
Emma O’Donovan is beautiful and popular, and she’s the girl that everybody wants to be at school. Like many teenage girls, she enjoys going to parties with her friends – often getting drunk and having casual relations with boys. One night, she attends a party that goes disastrously wrong; and just like that, she’s the victim of multiple rapes and other non-consensual sexual acts. From then on, her life is completely changed. As you may expect, she loses much of her confidence and personality, and her mental state drastically deteriorates.
Emma’s friends treat her disgustingly after the attack. Most of them turn their backs on her, leaving her to deal with this aftermath alone. They support the attackers and Emma is branded as a liar, with many saying she provoked the attack in various different ways. The reactions of her friends made me really angry, and made me completely lose faith in humanity. If I were in Emma’s shoes, I’d hope that my friends would stick by me and believe me; but this novel highlights the issues and misconceptions that many young people have in regards to sexual assault.
Emma’s parents are also extremely unhelpful. I felt a slight degree of sympathy for them just after the attack, as they obviously have no idea how to deal with what happened to their daughter. But often her parents are extremely selfish and self-absorbed, and they really don’t attempt to help Emma much. Emma’s mother deals with things by pretending everything is fine (when it clearly isn’t), and Emma’s father will barely even look at her. As you can imagine, this all leads Emma to think that what happened to her was her fault…when it most certainly wasn’t!!
The only other characters I liked were Conor and Bryan. Conor is one of Emma’s friends who cares about her deeply, and even though Emma (understandably) cuts communication with the people she went to school with, he continues to reach out to her and let her know that he cares. Conor restored my faith in humanity, helping me to believe that even in the darkest of times, there are some good people in this world. Emma’s brother Bryan was also a fantastic character. He tries his hardest to support his little sister and help her as she suffers after the attack. Ultimately, there’s not much he can really do, but at least he tries.
O’Neill gives a very thorough and detailed account of what it is like to experience an event like this. Of course, O’Neill has a strong feminist approach to the topic of rape culture. The reader really gets a strong, realistic sense of what it is like to be assaulted, and how it can affect the victim afterwards. She really highlights many of the issues prevalent in today’s society in regards to consent, social media, explicit images, the law, mental health and much more. Emma has to work so hard to fight back against the people who scorn her for “asking for it”. But why? She shouldn’t have to.
I loved the style in which this novel is written. After the event, it’s written almost as Emma’s stream of consciousness, and the reader really gets a deep insight into Emma’s thoughts and emotions. O’Neill uses italics and brackets to indicate intrusive thoughts, because as you can imagine, memories of that night keep haunting Emma and they won’t let her go. Stylistically, this book has many little details that are exceptionally clever and unique.
The ending was left extremely open-ended and ambiguous – which I actually really liked. We have no idea what happens to Emma. In the Afterword, O’Neill states this was a deliberate choice, as “[she] wanted to have an ending that was true to the narrative itself”. The reader takes what they will from the ending. This makes the story personal to every single reader, and involves the reader so much more. I’ve been thinking about my own ending for Emma – I hope that she is happy, but who knows?
Overall, this novel was incredible, but it was very tough to read. O’Neill does not hold back whatsoever when it comes to discussing rape culture and sexual assault, and the novel is therefore very emotional. I cried many times whilst reading this, and I also felt anger, frustration, empathy and so much more. I found that I personally couldn’t read too much of this in one go as it was so deeply upsetting, and therefore I read it a lot slower than I would usually read books. I would highly recommend this read if you have an interest in feminism or any of the topics I have discussed in this review. But I would say that you need to prepare yourself emotionally for this, because it is an extremely difficult read.
Happy reading 🙂