Asking For It by Louise O’Neill
published by Quercus on September 3rd 2015
- young adult, contemporary
- hardcover 344 pages
- find out more on Goodreads
- buy on Amazon / buy on The Book Depository
★★★★ 4.5 STARS
Asking For It is a no nonsense, hard-hitting, harrowing look at the horrors of rape culture. Emma O’Donovan is an eighteen year old Irish girl who, despite living in the quaint town of Ballinatoom, is at the height of popularity; in almost every way she is the kind of girl I would hate. She isn’t nice to her friends, parties recklessly, and there’s an unnerving undercurrent which suggests her friend Jamie was raped pre-story, and that Emma told her not to make a fuss about it. The audacity to create such an unlikeable lead within the context of a story that relies on sympathy is just one of the things that makes this book a complex, furiously interesting read.
“I cannot remember, so those photos and those comments have become my memories.”
As the story develops and the reader is encouraged to dislike Emma more and more, the fateful incident happens, twisting the story on its head. In no uncertain terms it is a horrible chapter to read. But should you expect anything less? Though the event is not depicted the photos surface the next day on Facebook and the way they are described – visualising this crime – is horrifying. I have never felt so revolted at the events within a book, which is just a true highlight of how talented O’Neill is. She doesn’t shy away from the emotional violence of such an act, forcing the reader to look and bear witness to the brutality of rape.
And with it come the moments of question. What makes rape rape? For me, and many of you I hope, it is pretty black and white: if all parties involved do not actively, knowingly, in full conciousness agree to having sex, then it is rape. But what if they were drinking? What if they were a girl with a hefty sexual history? And what if they’d already invited one of the men into the bedroom with them earlier that night, and had sex with them? Perhaps, for some people, it is not quite so clear cut. And since Emma cannot even remember the incident, who is to say she was raped at all?
“The word fills the room, until there’s nothing left, and all I can breathe is that word (rape) and all I can hear is that word (rape) and all I can smell is that word (rape) and all I can taste is that word (rape).”
It’s clear that Asking For It is heavily researched and that O’Neill is more than aware that rape cases are not black and white, nor easily convicted. Primarily, Emma doesn’t even believe she has been raped to begin with – or will not let herself say the word. It’s not until her teachers, at the Catholic school she attends, intervene that the realisation erupts with full force. Rape is a heavy word in any scenario and its weightiness is not ignored. Just like how Emma told Jamie not to say the big R when she engaged in dubiously consenting sex, it takes a long time for her to build up to allowing it.
Possibly one of the most horrifying elements of the story is how the community of Ballinatoon immediately turn against Emma. Her rapists – a handful of men, some of whom are on the football team, stars of the town – are heralded as innocent until proven guilty whilst Emma is plunged into the role of liar, life ruiner, stupid girl out to get revenge. Even those closest to her aren’t as supportive as you might hope and as the story moves on and Emma’s chances of successfully convicting her tormentors seems to lessen, the anger the reader experiences multiplies. Truly, this is one hell of a rollercoaster ride when it comes to emotions; your blood will be boiling, your head thumping with a headache from it all, but no matter what you will not be able to put this book down.
“My body is not my own any more. They have stamped their names all over it.”
All I sing is praises for this book. Why, then, have I given it 4.5 stars instead of the full five? Well the reason for that is the ending, which is a bit of a let down but not at the same time. It’s true and as unflinchingly honest as the rest of the book, so you shouldn’t be surprised by the turn of events at the end. Less than 5% of rape cases brought to court end in conviction of the perpetrator, and 100% of rape victims will never be the same again.
The fact that Asking For It exists at all is a massive concern for where our society currently stands in regards to rape. In a perfect utopia this book wouldn’t have ever been written, because rape culture would not be an issue at all, yet here it is. We need this book. Asking For It is a necessity, no matter how horrifying and hard it is to read it because these things are happening daily and people all around the world are currently, right this very second, being treated like Emma, or are being raped, or are drunk and unconscious on the bed of somebody they went home with that night, raped, because they can no longer give consent. If you read one thing this year, make sure it’s Asking For It. And don’t just read it: talk about it!
you’ll love this if…
- You’re looking for some top quality feminist literature!
- You want to read a complex book that explores the grey areas of rape and the consequences of rape culture.
- You loved Courtney Summers’s All the Rage.