29 September 2015

BOTM: 'Asking For It' by Louise O'Neill

Our September "Book of the Month": Asking For It.

The author: Louise O'Neill

The genre: a dark psychological tale about "sexual consent and betrayal, victim blaming and truth in the age of the smartphone".

The time: the first half takes place across six days at the start of summer a year ago. The second half switches to six days in the here and now.

The place: a fictional rural town, Ballinatoom, possibly in County Cork.

The central character: Emma O'Donovan is just eighteen, the most popular girl in school, the prettiest girl in town.

The plot: The book begins in Emma's apparently perfect middle-class universe of iPhones and hair extensions, Nespresso travel mugs, Ray-Bans and homework that you forgot to do. A life measured out in text messages, and Emma and her teenage friends almost talk a different language to the older generation in town.

This first part of the book leads up to the night of the fatal party in which Emma is brutally gang-raped.
The next day she wakes up outside her house and can't remember anything. But everyone else does. The town ostracises her as she becomes known across the nation as "The Ballinatoom Girl", the girl in the graphic photographs posted on social media, the girl who "was asking for it".
The pace: increasingly relentless, jumping from acutely observed dialogue and Emma's internal monologues to brief flashbacks and "flash forwards", and the vicious comments on social media.

Why we liked? This is a brave book, and while it's rare that a novel would create a major national debate in Ireland nowadays, Asking For It has already begun to, about rape culture and our legal system.

The author deliberately makes Emma far from perfect. In the beginning she is full of life, smart, sexy and self-aware. Yet she's no angel: she is vain, shallow, self-centred, the queen of the bitchy put-down.

For the first 114 pages many readers will find her insufferable. But all this makes her subsequent downfall so real and spectacular. It's an uncomfortable, emotional, harrowing read, as Emma's world becomes unhinged and she tries to make sense of it all.

Plot spoiler: there is no happy ending. Instead it's brutally honest, ambiguous and true to the narrative. The author explains why she took this bold step in an important afterword.

Anything we didn't like? The price in Hodges Figgis: Ireland's oldest bookstore charged us €17.50 for the paperback edition.

We hope Facebook Inc hates this novel, and that it becomes a prescribed text on the Leaving Cert.

The publishers: Quercus Fiction.
Check out more of our Books of the Month