Asking For It - Louise O'Neill

Genre: Fiction/YA
Synopsis: 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...

Review: After the phenomenal success of her debut novel, Only Ever Yours, expectations (including my own) were high for this second novel dealing with extremely controversial subject matter.

I will admit I was a bit unsure for the first half of the novel. The main character, Emma, is an exceptionally superficial, bitchy, unlikeable human being. So are most of her friends. I'm so grateful to never have had 'friends' like them when I was myself a teenager. It didn't help inspire empathy, I suppose, that I am not the kind of person who has ever gotten so wasted at a party that advantage could be taken of me (without a fight, anyway) - I believe people should demonstrate more responsibility for own safety than that. However, failing to do so does not put them at fault if someone else assaults them, and that is the point here. It took me until the title event to realise the genius of making Emma so unlikeable - there is absolutely no room for excuses in this novel. She is not a nice girl and the book does everything in its power to present a situation where your most judgemental, prejudiced instincts will be evoked against her - it does its damndest to elicit any hint of your own unwitting participation in the exact culture that the entire novel is about. I will admit, it really did make me take a hard look at how I view cases like this in particular.

As with her previous novel, Louise tackles this difficult topic unrelentingly and with more unbiased brutality than I've seen in some adult novels. This is classed as a YA novel, but make no mistake, it is not for younger readers. That said, it should be mandatory reading for everyone of appropriate age because, particularly from the second half onwards, it does an absolutely incredible job of illustrating the problematic, multi-faceted reality of victim blaming in rape culture. It does so from the perspective of the victim, the victim's family, the rapists and Emma's friends, and the small town community, as well as on the national stage. Not only do we see vicious social media attacks on Emma from people who believe she is at fault, we also see her elevation to an objectified state of unwanted martyrdom by people who believe she must become a symbol, an abstract concept to represent a fight against rape culture. On both sides of this, the suffering of the individual is utterly overlooked until it is lost. Thus, with the most exceptional stream-of-consciousness style of writing, we witness the irrevocable fallout of Emma's traumatic experience and the destructive reality of victim-blaming. I believed, after reading Only Ever Yours, that this topic could be placed in no better hands than Louise O'Neill's and I was right.

Rating: 4/5

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