Asking For It is a book about the life of Emma O’Donovan. Ballinatoom beauty and popular amongst her peers, Emma is constantly spending time at parties and looking to maintain her porcelain skin.
Alongside her friends Maggie, Abi and Jamie, she attends a party a Sean Casey’s and her life is never the same again. Pictures trawled across a FaceBook page ‘Easy Emma’ show in graphic detail what happened that night and when the word that no one wants to say is finally questioned – ‘rape’ – Emma’s world is thrown upside down. Accusations about her validity, her attackers reputations and a whole myriad of victim blaming horrors show a raw and soul-destroying reality.
I have read and reviewed Louise’s first book Only Ever Yours. After having done so I immediately went to Waterstones and bought her newest release and I have no regrets.
Asking For It left me, much like O’Neill’s first novel, with an overwhelming sadness for the protagonist, Emma. I feel that the expectation is that you read a book and at the end all the things you worry about or leave you at the end of your metaphorical cliff will be resolved but O’Neill’s refreshing take on this will (or it did for me) completely overturn your expectations. The book as a whole has more to say than what happens at the end and this is what I love about her writing style.
The book is split into two sections ‘Last Year’, where O’Neill leads up to the rape and gives an insight into Emma’s life and her friends and family. Just long enough for me to really dislike her character before she wakes up blistered and abused on her porch. I won’t lie – Emma was a horrible person and I really didn’t like her. She’s what I would define as a Bitch, with a capital B. However, her characterisation in no way lessens the horrific things that happened to her and my empathy towards the entire situation.
The second section is ‘This Year’ and Emma’s personality is completely different. The mental and physical repercussions of what happened to her are beyond what I could have ever anticipated. The repetitions of ‘pink flesh’ and ‘splayed legs’, as her own description of the images taken of her without consent, are a constant torment to Emma. Reading this section was truly like watching a person and everything around them crumbling and left me so heartbroken for her that I was both mesmerised but horrified as I continued to read.
The pinnacle of how horrific this book is and how it exemplifies both victim blaming and a misconstrued attitude towards rape is when Emma’s mother says the people who raped Emma were: “good boys really, this just got out of hand”. The lack of belief and love from Emma’s mother at that moment was something I cannot describe without being indecent.
Louise O’Neill is in my eyes one of the most talented feminist writers of this time and I feel privileged to read her writing and know that books like this are what is making, and will continue to make a difference to younger generations and show them how rape victims, both men and women, can be mistreated by their families and peers.