“They are all innocent until proven guilty. But not me. I am a liar until I am proven honest.”
Title: Asking For It
Author: Louise O’Neill
Publication: September 3rd 2015 by Quercus UK
Summary from Goodreads:
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.
I had a hard time reading this book, but not for the reasons you might be thinking. Yes, Asking For It is powerful and a much needed story, but it is far from the best book on the topic that I’ve ever read – actually, it is far from the best book I’ve ever read, period. I didn’t like it, not in the slightest. I support the deconstruction of rape culture within these pages, I support its stance and its message – but as a book? Not very high up there on my read list.
I feel like a horrible human being for explaining why I practically hated this book, despite its importance. The writing was terrible, I’m just going to come out and say it. This has nothing to do with the slang, because I know this book was originally published for a UK audience and therefore is written in a dialect I am very unfamiliar with. My issue was this: the writing was vague, jumpy, and half-hearted. While certain scenes or moments were carefully crafted, a majority of this book read like a poorly edited, self-published story that should have been an essay. There are a lot of ways, better ways, to describe certain things – and this book just failed in that respect. In addition, the writing was hard to follow. Once again, I’m not talking the slang – I mean the overall flow of the writing itself. Nothing was cohesive, and it jumped around from this to that and oh look, car! There was no structure, and while it could be a powerful artistic choice if done correctly, that is sadly not the case here.
Now, on the flip side of my extreme dislikes – I do have to give credit where credit it due. O’Neill has done something incredibly important. Emma is not likeable, not in the slightest. She is mean, horrible, a bitch, and every other word in between. She tells her friend who was very clearly sexually assaulted to shut up and ignore it. She calls her other friend a slut. She is judgmental and cruel with her words – yet, that is why she is an important character. When the accusations start popping up, we doubt her. Was she asking for it? Look at what she was wearing? We know for a fact she was teasing them, provoking them. We know for a fact she had sex… but not saying no is still not consent. We don’t want to root for her, yet we do. Asking For It has taken a despicable person, and she doesn’t really get any better, but it has taken a horrible girl and forced the readers to acknowledged and question their initial reactions to the question of “but she was asking for it, wasn’t she?” You don’t like her, you question her, yet…. you come to see just what happened. It’s brilliant.
While I might not like this book as a book itself, it does have a powerful message. If you can get past the writing, which I struggled with and eventually gave up on, Asking For It is a compelling, intriguing, and unforgettable examination of rape culture.