Review: Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

Emma O’Donovan is not a nice girl.  She’s mean to her closest friends and she wants every boy to be in love with her. She lies, she steals, and she’s not exactly a virgin. 

As she turns 18, her life is pretty good. She’s been told since childhood that she’s the prettiest girl in their small Irish town.  Until she goes to a party, drinks too much, makes a few bad decisions.  She’s found the next morning, unconscious and half-naked on her doorstep.  When she goes to school the next day all she gets are stares and laughs, and her friends won’t talk to her. 

Going into this book, you know Emma is going to be raped, and sadly, that’s a story we’ve heard before.  But what O’Neill does so impressively is she really puts the reader inside Emma’s head and explores the trauma of what happened to her.

And, she plays with your own head as well.  I’ll admit, at first I sort of thought Emma deserved what was coming.  Maybe she WAS “asking for it”.  She was wearing a really skimpy dress, she drank too much, she came on to two different boys.  And when her own friend needs her, she barely helps – she’s too fixated on flirting. And then, the day after the party, I felt like “well, that wasn’t SO bad”.  After all, Emma can’t remember it.

I don’t really think that; I’m just saying these are the paths the author leads you down.  She really challenges our perceptions of rape and how we see its victims.

What O’Neill shows us, really powerfully in this book, is how a person who is raped can be effectively violated over and over again, in the public eye, in the legal system, among her friends and family, and most importantly, in her own mind.  I think that’s hard for most of us to really understand unless we’ve experienced something similar.  Emma has to deal with her own guilt and shame, her feelings of being exposed.  She’s championed by some but in her own community, she’s mostly vilified.

“My body is not my own any more. They have stamped their names all over it.” 

In one night, she’s taken apart and put back together again. She thinks of herself as a collection of doll parts. Her beauty, which she was so proud of, is now something to be despised.  I was struck by how much everyone in this book focused on Emma’s appearance, and how, when her body becomes something she hates, she has nothing left, no identity that isn’t tied to her looks.

I listened to this on audiobook, and at first it’s a little slow to get into, but it becomes absolutely haunting.  Much of this book is interior monologue, and narrator Aoife McMahon does an amazing job vocalizing Emma’s inner thoughts.

“I am not falling apart. I am being ripped at the seams, my insides torn out until I am hollow.”

O’Neill makes clear that the aftermath of rape is brutal, and recovery is a lot more difficult than we might expect.  This is a story everyone should read.

This was my first book by O’Neill and I really want to read more.  Recommendations?

3 Responses to “Review: Asking For It by Louise O’Neill”

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