Reviews > Published on April 5th, 2016

Bookshots: 'Asking for It' by Louise O'Neill

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


Asking For It

Who wrote it?

Young women already know what’s between the pages of this book. It’s the other people in that room who need to read it.

Louise O’Neill, YA author from Clonakilty in Ireland. Her first novel Only Ever Yours is being adapted for the screen by Killer Content. Before turning to writing full-time, O’Neill worked as an intern for Elle magazine in New York.

Plot in a Box:

Emma O'Donovan, eighteen and beautiful, is becoming bored with life in the small Irish town of Ballinatoom. One summer night she and her friend go to a party. She gets drunk. She takes drugs. She doesn’t remember much of that night and nothing of what happens in a locked room with four young men she thinks are her friends.

Invent a new title for this book:

The Loneliness of the Small Town Rape Victim

Read this if you like(d):

Books that make you rage against the patriarchy.

Meet the book’s lead(s):

Emma O'Donovan, smart, bored, pretty and totally unequipped to deal with what’s about to happen to her.

Said lead(s) would be portrayed in a movie by:

The actress who will play Emma is still probably at drama school. I’d nominate Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin) to direct it.

Setting: would you want to live there?

Small towns are fine with me, as I happen to live in a small settlement in rural Norway. But a small town in deeply conservative Ireland - the kind of place where going to Mass is still the social highlight of the week? They’d lynch me within a week of my arrival.

What was your favorite sentence?

Boys are always telling me I’m beautiful, their eyes roaming around my body hungrily, as if looking for a place to plant a flag.

The Verdict:

You might find Emma O'Donovan, the narrator and main character of Asking for It, a little hard to like, and if you do then that’s a good thing because this is not a story about goodies and baddies, about perpetrators and victims. It’s also not a story about the blurring of moral boundaries, because although Amazon in its boundless wisdom compares O’Neill to Jodi Piccoult, this isn’t one of those but who’s really in the right? narratives the likes of which Piccoult, one beady eye on the Book Club market, specializes in. We’re left in no doubt about what happens to Emma in that locked room at the party. We’re left in no doubt that the abuse she suffers is wrong. What we’re left to ponder on are matters which run much deeper and darker than these.

It’s important that we don’t like Emma, because our tendency to romanticize young women is one of a series of cultural myths that lie at the heart of rape culture. O’Neill writes Emma not as traditional victim-fodder, but as a real person: petty, vain, manipulative, charming, intelligent, immature. Emma does stupid, hurtful things to her friends. She steals their possessions and flirts with their boyfriends. In the pursuit of male attention, she elbows rivals out of the way. She has sex with young men she doesn’t really like in the pursuit of social advantage. She relentlessly teases her besotted neighbour Conor, just because she can. She does a thousand things that made me wince with rueful recognition at memories of an eighteen year old me. That recognition is important because none of us like the person we were at eighteen. Like Emma, none of us would have deserved what happens to her, both during the abuse and afterwards.

Asking for It is a good book and a sad book. You won’t come away from it feeling happy, but you will come away from it feeling angry and anger is a healthier emotion than despair. If, like me, you’re a parent, I might advise you to buy it for your daughters, but actually it would do more good if I begged you to buy it for your sons. In the postscript, O’Neill talks about the huge response she got when she asked women she knew if something like this had ever happened to them. Many of us have already been in that locked room (including me, once, but I got to the door before he did). Young women already know what’s between the pages of this book. It’s the other people in that room who need to read it.

About the author

Cath Murphy is Review Editor at and cohost of the Unprintable podcast. Together with the fabulous Eve Harvey she also talks about slightly naughty stuff at the Domestic Hell blog and podcast.

Three words to describe Cath: mature, irresponsible, contradictory, unreliable...oh...that's four.

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