asking for it

Publication date: 3rd September 2015

Publisher: Quercus Publishing

ISBN: 9781784295868

Source: uncorrected proof

It’s the beginning of the summer in a small town in Ireland. Emma O’Donovan is eighteen years old, beautiful, happy, confident. One night, there’s a party. Everyone is there. All eyes are on Emma. The next morning, she wakes on the front porch of her house. She can’t remember what happened, she doesn’t know how she got there. She doesn’t know why she’s in pain. But everyone else does. Photographs taken at the party show, in explicit detail, what happened to Emma that night. But sometimes people don’t want to believe what is right in front of them, especially when the truth concerns the town’s heroes …

A few months ago I read the fantastic, hard-hitting debut Only Ever Yours and was so excited to have discovered the refreshingly honest voice of Louise O’Neill. I couldn’t wait to see what she would do next, hoping it would live up to the standard set by her first novel. I couldn’t have hoped for more than we have been gifted with Asking For It, an astonishingly poignant story about rape and how we react to perpetrators and victims within our society.

Emma is not a character we would usually sympathise with. She is selfish and mean and shallow, traits encouraged by the pressure put upon her by her mother, and the expectations of her peers. This all changes when she is raped and filmed at a party and suddenly everyone she knows, and a great number of people she doesn’t know, is passing judgement on her behaviour despite the fact that she doesn’t remember anything from that night. For me, it is so important that Emma is not a loveable character; by making her into a stereotypical mean girl, O’Neill forces us to confront our assumptions about the type of person she is and whether she deserves everything that happens to her.

This book is not a comfortable read. Both the descriptions of the events of Emma’s rape and the attitudes of family and friends afterwards sickened me. I desperately wanted Emma to have a happy ending, if only for my own peace of mind, but if a quick-fix solution is what you’re expecting from this book you’re going to be disappointed. I appreciate O’Neill’s decision not to sugar-coat the situation and its effects as this makes the impact of the whole book and its message so much more forceful.

Put simply, Asking For It is heartbreaking in its unflinching honesty; it is a truly extraordinary book and one everyone should read. It is books like this which can help make a positive difference in the world.