I absolutely loved Louise O’Neill’s debut novel Only Ever Yours so when I learned about Asking for It, I knew I needed to read it. My first question was, is it as hard-hitting as her first book? The answer I received: Absolutely – it’s even more scarily on-point.
O’Neill is fantastically outspoken, just follow her on social media and see. I love the pithy comments she makes and her shrewd but devastatingly true insights about society. From these I should’ve known that Asking for It was going to be a tough read. It was not going to be a nice book to read. But it was going to be an important book to read.
Asking for It is set in the world as we know it; in small-town Ireland. Emma is our lead and she is 18, beautiful and popular. There’s a party that everyone at her school attends and Emma drinks as she always does, but this party is different. She awakens on the porch of her house the next morning with no memory of what happened the night before. She wakes bruised and in pain. What happened? Emma’s party exploits are all online for everyone to see: She’s in many photos, in all sorts of half-clothed, compromising positions, all with faceless male figures and all things that she doesn’t remember doing.
What follows is a horrible story of Emma’s (drunken) word against those of the boys in the photos; most of who are the sons of some of the most powerfully placed people in the town. It’s a story of no one believing what happened or, worse, saying that she was probably acting like she deserved it – like she was asking for it.
Asking for It is a book that needed to be written a long time ago about a subject that needs to be talked about. It is an utterly mesmerising and powerful book, but it was not an enjoyable read. O’Neill writes her teenage characters in a scarily accurate light. They speak and act just right and are so believable that you can imagine them being at your bus stop in the morning. But, they are also rather abhorrent. Emma included, if I am honest.
She has been put through an experience that no one should be put through. She is treated utterly cruelly and she has next to no support at home and because the book is set in such a small town, everyone knows everyone’s business. The spotlight is well and truly on Emma and her family and her parents don’t like that. They just want their life to return to normal. They want Emma to drop the case and forget about it. It’s one against the many and the many are adamant that Emma is at fault.
The only character I liked in this book was Emma’s brother. He’s the only one who has her back. Everyone else is weak, cruel or, as said earlier, completely abhorrent. Even Emma’s own actions, not in regards to that night but in the aftermath are irritatingly feeble. She is crippled by self-doubt and a weakness of character, which is completely understandable as she has no one to hold her hand, no one who believes her and no one who is going to help her. But it does make for a very gritted teeth read.
I read somewhere that another author described O’Neill’s writing as if “she writes with a scalpel.” This is most definitely the case for Asking for It. It’s an emotionally raw and painful read. Each word cut me deeper and made me want to yell with outrage and cry with pity and frustration until I finally settled my face on something between a frown and an open-mouthed pose of shock. This book hit me and hit me hard. It made me really question the society that we live in and how things like this (because things like this definitely happen) are allowed to happen and, worse, go unpunished.
Although challenging, Asking For It hasn’t put me off O’Neill’s work. She’s an author that I will constantly watch out for. As soon as she’s released a new book, I’ll be there in the bookshop, instantly handing over my money so that I can have another taste of her incredible talent.