The Mud and Stars Book Blog

thoughts from a girl who spends her days in other worlds…

An important story which needs to be told – My review of ‘Asking for It’ by Louise O’Neill

on October 8, 2015

13824_868764553180826_1488146986302490688_n1Asking For It. Louise O’Neill. Quercus. September 2015.

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…

Asking For It by Louise O’Neill was a powerful novel, and is, in my opinion, flawlessly written. Parts of the book are extremely hard to read (and made me cry) because of the horrific things that happen to the main character, Emma; however, this is an important story which deserves to be told, because what happens to Emma could happen to any of us, and we absolutely need to start talking about this.

Asking For It is narrated by Emma, an 18 year old girl living in the small town of Ballinatoom in Ireland. The story follows Emma as she attends a party thrown by a boy from her school, and the aftermath of that night when she wakes up on her front lawn the following afternoon, blisteringly sunburnt all over, with no memory of what has happened to her. It’s only a few days later, when photographs emerge on Facebook of an undressed and unconscious Emma with three guys from her school/the local area, that she realises something very bad must have happened – something she was in no state to consent to.

The most heartbreaking aspect of this novel is that the majority of people Emma knows refuse to believe she was raped, and the few people who do believe her immediately question the extent to which it was her own fault. This is a work of fiction, yet this story is uncannily familiar, and you only have to scroll down to the comments section of any online newspaper or blog article discussing rape and rape culture to see what I mean; victim-blaming is everywhere.

There are people in Emma’s town who say that she was too drunk, a promiscuous girl… There are people who think she asked for it, that she deserved it… Some even think that she consented, because why wouldn’t she? After all, she’s a slut, a whore, a skank, a liar… and the list goes on and on.

We could easily replace Emma’s name with that of just about any woman who has spoken out about rape in the media, because I’ve seen these arguments rallied against victims countless times. What people (journalists, internet trolls, and anybody else who feels they have a right to have a say) fail to realise when they make these judgments is that they are not speaking about some faceless entity, but a real person. Emma is branded ‘Ballinatoom Girl’ by the press in this novel, and it is this headline-pseudonym that adds a cold layer of detachment between their words and the actual, human person they’re talking about… that makes total strangers feel entitled to discuss Emma as if she were just another ‘case’ and not somebody whose life is falling apart.

Another important point this novel makes, which I hadn’t even considered myself, was that messages of support from strangers are just as hard for Emma to cope with as the vitriolic messages of denial and blame. It seems that everybody feels it’s their place to make a comment, forgetting that by doing so, they are reminding Emma again and again of what happened to her.

This novel mirrors reality to frightening extent. Something which struck me in particular was the ‘slut-shaming’ Emma’s classmates engage in over the photographs. These photos are passed around the entire school, and are shared, liked and commented on with brutal glee by people she’s known all her life. This reminded me of incidents from when I was at school where topless pictures of girls were leaked and texted round by their ex (or sometimes current) boyfriends, and the way people (possibly even myself) reacted at the time – like it was all a big joke. I can’t begin to imagine how horrifying, humiliating and sickening it must have felt for those girls to know everyone had seen those pictures, and these were consensually taken photos (though of course, not consensually shared). In Emma’s case, these photographs, and the things they depict, are taken when she is unconscious, and the images of herself, and what people must think of her after seeing them, are what haunts her the most. Emma continuously uses these words to describe how the pictures are seared in her memory for life:

“I am pink flesh.
I am splayed legs.”

This really brought home to me how impossibly hard it must be to move on when this happens to you – to get rid of the memories. My heart broke for Emma reading these lines; these are the words which made this novel so painful, but so eye-opening to read.

Asking For It is a vitally important book, and should be compulsory reading in schools all around the world, however I urge people of all ages to read it. Louise O’Neill’s novel strengthens a conversation society needs to be having in much more compassionate depth. We need to start talking about rape and victim-shaming in a way which does not judge or personally expose those who have been through these traumatic experiences (unless they themselves are the ones sharing their story, on their own terms). We also need to exclude the word promiscuous from these discussions. The fact that you have had sex before does not mean you’re asking for it, drinking alcohol does not mean you’re asking for it, wearing short skirts does not mean you’re asking for it…

Nobody who goes through this is asking for it.


15 responses to “An important story which needs to be told – My review of ‘Asking for It’ by Louise O’Neill

  1. Aura Willow says:

    You have really broad taste in books, I an slightly jealous :P….But i’m glad you do as this sounds like a book that should be read and is also current (I.e facebook aspects etc).

    Great review!

    • mudandstars says:

      Thank you! It was a very powerful book, and definitely relevant right now. Yeah I’m trying to read as widely as possible at the moment, because it’s helping me discover so many great books! I’m going to read the book you lent me soon (The People Next Door), as I’m in the mood for something creepy/Halloweeny 🙂 x

      • Aura Willow says:

        Let me know what you think, I got half way through and was enjoying it but it wasn’t enough to keep going back to it. I do wa t to read the end but let me know if it is any good 😀 xx

      • mudandstars says:

        I will indeed! I will probably do a mini review later in the month as was planning on doing some kind of round up of creepy October reads. Having said that, I am totally failing at reading any so far this month, and have just been reading loads of romance instead! xx

      • Aura Willow says:

        Maybe you should ready a creepy romance? Xx

      • Aura Willow says:

        Or Goosebumps 😀 xx

  2. Wow. This sounds like a powerful book! And the cover! It’s really interesting and fits well.

  3. Maria says:

    I really want to read this! It sounds so fascinating, but its also so important. Great review.

    • mudandstars says:

      Thank you! Would definitely recommend – the writing was amazing too, and although enjoyed is probably the wrong sentiment for a book with such a difficult subject, it was a brilliant book as well as being an important one, if that makes sense! x

  4. This sounds like such a powerful story. Thank you for posting your review, I’m adding it to my tbr list.

  5. […] the three newest additions to my TBR! I added Asking for It after reading Jessica @ Mud and Stars excellent review of it. A Study in Charlotte I discovered through Genea @ My Heart Beats for Books post about it and […]

  6. […] Asking For It made me angry, not because it was a bad book, but because of the subject matter. It’s about am 18-year-old girl who is raped at a party, and the story follows the aftermath of her attack. The reactions of her judgemental classmates, the victim-shaming press, and basically everything she endured within these pages filled me with rage. Because everything that happens in this book could and does happen in real life. You can read my review of the book here. […]

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