Asking For It by Louise O’Neill
Published 2016 by riverrun
My copy: Library
In a small town where everyone knows everyone, Emma O’Donovan is different. She is the special one – beautiful, popular, powerful. And she works hard to keep it that way.
Until that night . . .
Now, she’s an embarrassment. Now, she’s just a slut. Now, she is nothing.
And those pictures – those pictures that everyone has seen – mean she can never forget.
This book had been on my shelf for ages, but I had renewed it the maximum number of times so knew I had to finally read it! I admit I had been putting it off as I knew the subject matter would be quite grisly, but I still wanted to read it for myself.
Emma is gorgeous and popular, but her life is turned upside-down when a drunken night goes horribly wrong. Pictures of her with a group of boys appear all over social media . Was she a willing participant, was she raped – or was she asking for it?
I found this a really gripping read that I couldn’t put down. At the start I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of characters that were introduced, but I soon realised this was important to illustrate the extent of Emma’s social circle and just how many people then turned against her. You don’t need to remember exactly who’s who, as there are much more important issues to get your head around.
Interestingly – and cleverly – Emma is not your typical victim. From the start of the book she is bitchy and manipulative, and she is a very hard character to like. There are hints that she is promiscuous and has taken drugs in the past, and as a result she is harshly judged by other characters, many of whom clearly do think she was asking for it, and even that she somehow deserved this and had it coming. There are also other interesting elements thrown in the mix – how her family react to the event and the difficulties in prosecuting the perpetrators in cases like this.
I think the author was very clever to make Emma an unlikeable character to begin with. Although as a reader I never believed she was “asking for it”, I did find myself questioning whether it was understandable that other characters in the book did. The novel really makes you think and can be a difficult and uncomfortable read at times. It also cleverly shows you how difficult it can be for rape victims to take their attackers to court, and also the wider effect on the victim’s friends and family.
This is a difficult to read, but important book – and I also feel it’s timely to read this now after a recent case involving a footballer, which reminded me of this case in many ways – not least the victim’s sexual past being seen as relevant to the current case. And it is definitely not for the faint-hearted! But the novel made me think and ask a lot of questions, which has to be a good thing.
I don’t think it is a perfect book; I found the second half quite repetitive and the story doesn’t move along very much at times, and I would have liked a few of the other characters in the novel to have been more developed (even at the end I couldn’t really distinguish between any of Emma’s friends and especially not any of the male characters, who were all completely interchangeable and had no unique characteristics).
But despite these niggles, this isn’t a book I will forget in a hurry. Although it isn’t an enjoyable book to read, it is still an important read for older teens and adults alike.
My rating: 8 out of 10