Where can I even begin with this book…
Well actually, I’m going to begin with a trigger warning of rape, drug and alcohol abuse, and sexual assault. That is basically the plot of the book so it will definitely be discussed in this review. I want to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible but I really really want to talk about the ending so if you don’t want to hear spoilers don’t read past the photo of the cover.
I wish to start by talking about the amazing event I went to on Tuesday at Waterstones featuring Louise O’Neill. There, she discussed the rape victims that inspired her so much, the pressure she felt to write the book correctly for them and the importance of starting this conversation. Louise was a truly inspirational but very down to earth person. It was so nice to hear her explain how important it was for her that the book was so honest. I really appreciated that she had the time to sign my copy of Asking For It and have a photo with me. For that, I am forever grateful of her.
Now, to the book. Asking For It tells the story of Emma O’Donovan, the most popular and prettiest girl in her small town in Ireland. She finds that in a world of Facebook and Snapchat, there is nowhere to hide after photographs of her during a gang rape are viewed by everyone in her town. After that, Emma’s world completely falls apart. It reviews the aftermath of rape and how it truly affects a victim when no one believes her and everyone is questioning whether she was really ‘asking for it’. The inclusion of alcohol and drug usage makes the people around Emma further question how solid her claim of rape really is.
From start to finish, Asking For It was a gruesome and heart wrenching read. Even before the rape took place, the ignorance and sexism (even from Emma herself) is shocking and quite disturbing to read. O’Neill perfectly summed up the very real attitude towards rape and its victims, and whether or not they were ‘asking for it’. Some of the conversations the characters have or hear at school are ones I have also heard in everyday life. That is what is so shocking about this book. Emma’s story may be fictional but it happens to so many real people that it stops feeling like fiction and fantasy. It makes you realise that the judgement and abuse Emma experiences after her rape is not exaggerated or sensationalised. It may be a painful read but it is an important one. There is so much to learn about society and the legal system in this book so I strongly believe it is worth the read.
Now for my thoughts on the ending. The ending of this book took me by surprise because it was so sudden and was not drawn to any real conclusion. Louise O’Neill explains in the afterword, and at the Waterstones talk, that this is because it was the most truthful ending for Emma’s story. As much as it pained me, I agree with this. The book just wouldn’t have been right if justice was served and Emma’s life was restored. That just doesn’t have to real rape victims. The truthful yet frustrating ending just adds to realism and importance of this book. It shows us, as readers, that rape and sexual assault is a serious matter that happens to too many women and men around the world. It is one of those topics that people (like Emma’s family) believe that if we all stop talking about it, it will stop happening. That is obviously nonsense. O’Neill has given teenagers and adults an opportunity to start a conversation about sexual assault, something that is our job as readers to continue. I urge everyone to read this book and make victims of sexual assault and rape feel less ashamed and embarrassed about it.