Book: Asking For It
Author: Louise O’Neill
Published By: Quercus Books
Expected Publication: 7th July 2016
I received this book for free via Netgalley, this in no way affected my opinion of the book.
First off, I would like to thank Netgalley and Quercus Books for allowing me to read and review this book, it’s not a new book, it was actually first published last year, but the paperback version has just been published. I was quite excited to read this book because I’ve heard so much about it and I’m always looking for good feminist reads.
Initially I could not get into the book at all. Emma as a character was extremely unlikeable, she’s incredibly vain, she’s very judgemental, she’s a terrible friend, there’s nothing about her that makes you want to root for her. Her friends aren’t much better and within 30 pages of the book, I wanted to punch pretty much every single one of the characters. I already knew what the main storyline of the book was (Emma being gang raped at a party) and it seemed like it was taking far too long to get to the point! In fact, I almost DNFed the book because I was seriously struggling at the beginning. However, I’m glad I didn’t because this is a very important book which explores issues in our society that need to be talked about more.
This book made me angry and not in a way that I thought it was a bad book, no it was a really good book because you were meant to feel angry. It’s wrong that in 2016, when girls are raped, they are still asked what they were wearing, how much they were drinking, did they take drugs, how can they prove that they actually were raped, are you sure that you weren’t asking for it (and god how I hate the term asking for it!) and that girls are expected to protect themselves and not send the wrong signals because it will make it seem like you wanted to be attacked and this makes me so mad! The only thing that should matter when a girl is raped is that she was raped, that is illegal and the perpetrators should be brought to account. It should be that simple, and yet it isn’t and that is what this book explores. It made me so mad that people didn’t believe Emma when she said she was raped, that Emma didn’t even realise she was raped, that they all worried about the future of the perpetrators and not Emma’s future, that the boys were allowed a solicitor for the case and Emma wasn’t, that the prosecution were allowed to see the evidence for the case but Emma wasn’t, that the photos which proved she was raped may not have been admissible in court, so many things in this book made me angry! The most horrifying thing though was that this story, whilst a work of fiction, is fact for many women who have been through similar experiences to Emma. That, above everything else, made me the most angry.
There is so much exposure of slut shaming and rape culture and sexism and talking about consent in this book and I give props to Louise O’Neill for that because these are things that we need to talk about. These are very difficult subjects to handle and O’Neill does it very well.
I was very conflicted by the character of Emma. On the one hand, she was an incredibly, vain, selfish, judgemental person whose self-worth completely rests on how others view her body. If Emma was a real life person, we would absolutely, categorically, not be friends. She would have been one of the girls that I absolutely loathed at school. However, it would have been far too easy for Louise O’Neill to make Emma a sweet, virginal girl. The fact that she wasn’t, that she was mean, that she drank, that she partied, that she’d had sex before, opened up the “asking for it” discussion in her community and was integral to the book, because the whole point of it is that no girl, no matter how despicable, no matter how much sex she’s had, no matter how much she drinks, no matter how little she wears, is asking for it. Ever. I also think that characterising Emma like this at the start provided a great contrast for the second half of the book (post-rape), where she is nervous, self doubting, blaming herself, has holed herself up in her house and is essentially a shell of her former self.
One of the things I loved most was that right before the rape happened, Emma is seen victim blaming a friend of hers, who has been taken advantage of by a guy who is at the same party and she essentially tells her to get over it and I found the fact that this happened right before Emma herself is raped quite ironic and I thought it was a very interesting choice to have it almost directly proceeding Emma’s own rape.
This book is by no means perfect. Yes it is important that everyone should read it because it brings up some important issues, but I won’t lie and say this was the most incredibly written book ever. It was kind of repetitive, some of the same phrases occurring again and again during the book and I understand that this was Emma’s thought process but it did make me kind of irritated. I also felt like sometimes the chapter sections were too long and could have done with being cut down a little. I also felt like the flashbacks should have been clearer, they should have been italicised or something, because often I didn’t realise I was reading something that took place in the past until I was halfway through reading it! I also felt like there were far too many characters introduced at the start of the novel and it was hard to keep track of them all.
The lack of support that Emma was given was terrible! In the immediate aftermath, none of her friends, not even her brother realised from the pictures that she was obviously raped and even when it becomes clear that that was what happened to her, it still seems as if no one believes that the boys really raped her. Her parents, in particular her father were both terrible, neither of them supported her, it seemed like neither of them believed her and that they both just gave up on her. It also seemed as if they care more about how they were being perceived and how Emma’s being raped affected them rather than how it affected Emma.
Nearly all of the characters in this were horrible, sure in the year afterwards, Emma’s friends slowly start to believe what happened to her (or at least Ali and Maggie do, Jamie doesn’t, though I feel like that’s kind of understandable, since Emma didn’t really believe she was raped either, I’m not saying it’s a good attitude to have but I did understand why she wasn’t overly sympathetic). But they’re all terrible people, bullying her in the immediate aftermath of the rape, putting terrible comments on those pictures, spreading those pictures in the first place etc. I found it especially horrible in the year after when Ali and Maggie went out partying with Emma’s rapists…..I mean who does that to someone who was your friend, even if you have grown apart? The only one of her friends who was sympathetic was Conor, I loved Conor! I think it just shows how selfish Emma was that she wasn’t willing to give Conor a chance because he wasn’t a cute, popular kid and I liked that towards the end she acknowledged that she was wrong about this. I also loved Ms McCarthy who was the only one on seeing the pictures who seemed to realise what happened to Emma.
I found the scenes when Emma was looking at the photos of her rape and reading the comments even if she didn’t know what it was at the time (or didn’t want to acknowledge it, whichever one) extremely difficult. Those pictures are quite graphic and that scene is definitely not for the faint of heart. I am warning you now. Emma seemed more willing to consider herself a slut than a victim which I kind of got because no one wants to consider themselves a victim. I hated that she blamed herself and felt worried about ruining the lives of the boys who raped her (and was not worried about how they had ruined her life) but even though I have never experienced anything like Emma in real life, it seemed more true to life than if she had not blamed herself even a little bit and that’s incredibly sad, because if you’re raped then it is your rapist’s fault. Not yours. It’s as simple as that.
We never actually find out what happened to Emma, but that’s the point. She’ll never know exactly what happened to her and neither will we and this book was far more focused on the aftermath of the rape than on the rape itself which I was appreciative of because it’s already a very harrowing book without the rape scene being described.
I was however frustrated that we skipped a year and only got tiny snippets of what happened to Emma in the intervening year and felt that the transition itself from the present time to the next year was a little clunky and slightly confusing.
The comments on the newspaper articles about the rape were particularly infuriating, especially because as I read them, I recognised real life in there, there are always people on real life articles about rapes who say disgusting things, no matter how many people there are who are saying they support the victim, there are many who say disgusting things, this is only too clear from articles about the Stanford rape case, which despite the numerous statements of support for the victim, will still have some that support Brock Turner and his disgusting actions.
I found it incredibly sad how Emma thought of herself afterwards, that she was scared of her own body after what they did to her, that she worried about ruining the lives of her attackers rather than worrying about how her own life had been ruined, that she completely retreated into herself and that she still believed it was all her fault, it’s such a contrast from how she was at the beginning of the book and again what made it worse was that I’m sure there are real people out there who have felt this way after being attacked.
Thank goodness for Emma’s brother because he was the only sympathetic member of her family, the only one who hadn’t given up on her, who wanted her to fight and I kind of felt like Bryan was the mouthpiece for me and other readers of the book, because you don’t want Emma to give up, you want her to fight for justice.
You can’t entirely blame Emma for her attitude prior to the rape either. She is a product of her environment and it’s quite clearly from her interactions with her mother where she has picked up her values from. I found that quite interesting, the comparison between Emma and her mother, how Emma was so scared of turning into her mother and yet you can’t help but notice the similarities between the two of them.
Finally I want to talk about the ending. The ending was frustrating and anti-climactic and ultimately not at all satisfying but I can understand why Louise O’Neill did it, because it’s very realistic. Ultimately, the outcome of rape cases is predominantly frustrating and justice is not always served to victims and there is never going to be a happily ever after for the victims because what happened to them is something that they are going to have to live with for the rest of their lives so in that respect, she ended her book well, it’s just very frustrating for you as a reader because you want more. You want more for Emma, you want justice for her, you want to know that things work out okay and ultimately you don’t get that.
Overall, I wouldn’t say I enjoyed this book, because I don’t think it’s really possible to like a book like this but I did find it a very insightful and important read and I think it is something that everyone should read, but particularly teenaged and college aged students in order to get an understanding of rape culture and consent.
My rating: 3.5/5
My next review will probably be of my current read Look Who’s Back as I’m quite close to the end of that one. I know that I said I would be reviewing Nevernight, but I DNFed that as it just wasn’t for me.