‘Asking For It’ by Louise O’Neill – Book Review

Blurb from Goodreads

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…

My Review

Original Review, first read September 2015

This book was an utterly devastating read.

The main character is written as a very unlikeable person which in my mind is a very brave decision by the author. It challenges our preconceived notions about her. Makes us question her choices.

So then when the most heinous of acts is carried out against her, when she has passed out at a party she is horrifically gang raped while being photographed by a group of sporting jocks from her local school but no one believes her, no one takes her side; she had to have been “asking for it”.

And because this book is so exceptionally well plotted that you do almost catch yourself thinking well why did she do that? Why did she dress that way? “They’re good boys really. This all just got out of hand”.

But that is this book’s main theme / agenda / talking point. No one is EVER asking for it. Not because of what they wear, how they act, anything. There is no reason at all why victims of sexual crimes should be considered culpable. NONE

And when in the novel the author brings you into the world of the victim and the aftermath of what happened to her….you experience her pain, despair, guilt, shame, self loathing….and you will feel everything with her…everything… and you will hurt like you have never hurt before. And the ending….will just floor you.
It left me utterly broken.

This book haunts me. It haunts me to think that this happens. That this is inspired by true events…shame on us. Shame on us…

Read this book. It’s not a joyous read, not an easy read, but it is a necessary read.

“They are all innocent until proven guilty. Not me, I am a liar until I am proven honest.”

I have struggled thinking about what to rate this book. It is five stars purely for the light it shines on the pervasiveness and insidious nature of rape culture in our society… But from a prose standpoint it is only worth three stars as the beginning in particular is extremely sloppily structured. There are too many characters thrown into the mix without adequate clarity as to who is who, their role, function etc.

Therefore I choose to rate this four stars.

PREview, second read June 2018

From what I recall this is an incredibly powerful read. One that I was desperate to read and it became my first ever book that I had to have on the day of publishing (sadly things didn’t work out as planned and I got it the day after BUT IT WAS THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS!!!)

Anyway, it’s Louise O’Neill just being fabulously feminist and challenging all sorts of preconceived ideas we have about rape, rape victims, rapists…

It really gets into the nitty gritty of the insidiousness of rape culture in a small community and because it’s based here in Ireland it hits close to the bone for me (especially regarding commentary within Irish society about the attitudes of young men towards young women since a very public rape trial recently held in Belfast)

The book is not without its flaws;

I remember thinking that the narrative was a bit sloppy at the beginning and it was quite confusing with a lot of different characters at the start…

But once I got passed that I was thoroughly engaged. Not a book that a person necessarily enjoys reading but one that really opens up debate on one of the more disgusting facets of modern society. I’m really interested to read it for the second time and see how I feel about the treatment of the male supporting characters. It’s something I’ve noticed in a lot of YA reads with an emphasis on feminism. They kinda paint men as too much of a stereotype… I’m thinking Holly Bourne, The Nowhere Girls etc etc.

But back to ‘Asking For It’. It’s got a main character that isn’t a saint. Many people have labelled her unlikeable.

Including myself in my original review.

And honestly. I’m so over that.

I call utter BS on myself!!!!!

Like why are women expected to be likeable????

Are we all supposed to be vanilla snowflakes incapable of being fallible???
The demure maiden character who doesn’t voice her opinion and stays subservient her whole life??? Ehhhh doesn’t sound very realistic to me!!!

We rave about male anti heroes who can act as douchebaggy as they like but god forbid a woman does something deemed shady…

I am so freaking tired of gender stereotyping.

SO TIRED!!!!! #And how it’s resulted in these ever so deeply entrenched opinions regarding women that we as communities have. And all due to the propensity of views and attitudes of what has been traditionally a patriarchal led society.

So yes, I give major props to O’Neill for writing characters that don’t give a fiddlers about your precious feelings and whether or not you as a reader will like them. Screw that. I’m here for the characters that live their on-page lives however they choose to!!

Review post second read June 2018

This is one of those books that still has impact after a second reading. Honestly my heart is so full right now… But I think it’s so full because of the realities of this book and real world cases that we’ve all heard about.

A girl dresses in what is termed a provocative manner…

But why is her body immediately sexualised? Why can’t she dress in fashion-forward feminine clothing because she likes the way she looks??? Why is it always assumed that a short skirt or a top that enhances a woman’s cleavage is for your sexual gratification and not for her self-body confidence?

A girl drinks alcohol on a night out with friends…

Why should she expect that someone will take advantage of her if she gets inebriated Why is she not allowed to let her hair down and believe that she will be safe from harm?

A girl flirts with a boy.

She goes somewhere quiet with him. Kisses him maybe? Why is she considered a tease if she doesn’t want to engage in any other intimate relations with him?

A guy pushes too far sexually.

Her body panics. Freezes. She goes into shock. Into self preservation mode. Why is she expected to scream out and shout for help? Why is she expected to cry no as loudly as she can? Why is consent assumed?

Why if someone attacks her on the street, demands her handbag is it then okay to go along with it, hand over her possessions and try to be as subservient as she can for fear of the consequences…

And then later have people tell her she did the right thing for staying quiet, for not aggravating the criminal. She is believed.

Why is it different for rape? Why is a woman not believed.

I believe in the assumption of innocence until proven guilty as a cornerstone of our justice system. But victims need more support. Things have to change. Society has to change. It should not be expected that as women we can’t do some things or behave as we wish for fear of being assaulted either sexually or otherwise. We need to change that mindset in society.

Nobody is ever asking for it.

Nobody.

No matter what you think about their moral values and how they differ to yours. Each person on this planet is entitled to live their life as they wish as long as they do not bring harm to others.

She was not asking for it.

And as for the book… It still reads sloppily in the first quarter with a confusing array of characters coming and going but this does contrast nicely with the sudden quietness of Emma’s world once her life changes. Her thoughts about herself are so painful to read. The views of her family, her friends, her community…. Just… If this doesn’t move you to think about real life situations like this then I… I just don’t understand.

This isn’t a perfect book. It’s not brilliantly written and it’s heavy handed with how it’s teaching the reader about rape culture. But honestly, I don’t think that matters. This book has had a profound impact here in Ireland. Schools use it to discuss rape culture and matters of consent with teens, it’s about to be staged as a play in Cork this summer before coming to Dublin in the autumn…

So it’s flawed.
But even in those flaws it’s still gut wrenching and a must read.

A final question for us to ponder as a society.
Which of these four things causes rape:

  • (a) Short skirts?
  • (b) Flirting?
  • (c) Alcohol?
  • (d) Rapists?

I know my answer…

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13 thoughts on “‘Asking For It’ by Louise O’Neill – Book Review

    1. I don’t think Louise O’Neill is that well known on your side of the pond but here in Ireland where she’s from we are obviously very aware of her books. They all are intelligently written from a modern feminist viewpoint and well worth the read for the discussions they provoke

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Brilliant! Honestly amazing reviews, Emer! I first heard about this book after reading Surface Breaks by O’Neill and I knew immediately that I wanted to read more of her work, just haven’t been able to get my hands on it (grr)! I can feel how painful this might be to read but it’s definitely high on my list of books I want to read!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brilliant review! I haven’t read any Louise O’Neill yet but I own copies of this one and Only Ever Yours – I really want to read her work, but I know it’s going to be devastating. Thank you for reminding me that this is one I need to get under my belt, though! Especially as I’d like to read more Irish authors this year. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Jess!!! This is certainly a thought provoking read but so worth it. Definitely a book that needs to be read but brilliant if you can discuss it as you read it. The second time i read it I read it with my bookgroup and we had an amazing discussion about rape culture and societal expectations on women. And I highly recommend O’Neill as an Irish author to read. Her adult book, Almost Love, is my personal fav of hers.

      Like

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