ASKING FOR IT | LOUISE O’NEILL

Kernel Fiona reviews an important book for now, a book that looks at sexual abuse and cyber , a book written by a young author that should be read by everyone, especially the current teen generation, is it the iGen? by Louise O’Neill is getting acclaim everywhere as did her previous book, ONLY EVER YOURS. ASKING FOR IT is out now from the folks at Hachette Australia and should be available from most bookstores, if not you can acquire it HERE. Enjoy Fi’s thoughts on the book……all the best……JK.

BY

In these days of and internet trolls, this book is on point when it comes to the anguish and pain that is caused by relentlessly harassing someone on social media. More importantly, it competently addresses the issue of violence against women – something that has been very much in the headlines of late.

Emma O’Donovan is a beautiful 18 year old girl living in a claustrophobic rural Irish town called Ballinatoom. It is an under-statement to say that she is the belle of the ball. Leggy, stylish, fair of face, intelligent; she is the most popular girl in high school and understandably attracts her fair share of bitchy rivalry. Her three closest friends, Ali, Maggie and Jamie, spend their time preening themselves and plotting their next conquest. These girls are not candidates for any Swiss finishing school. They’re into partying, sex and a good time.

There is an inference at the start of the book that the friendship between Jamie and Emma has cooled a little following an incident that occurred at a party. There is some suggestion that Jamie has been sexually assaulted and that Emma has minimised her suffering and turned her back on her friend. Jamie has obviously struggled immensely with the assault and feels betrayed and let down by Emma. Rightfully so.

What makes this book so realistic is that Emma, later to become a victim herself of gang rape, is not a likeable person. She is conceited, selfish and ruthless when it comes to pursuing boys. She cares little for the fact that her less than glamourous friend, Ali has her heart set on local boy, Sean. Emma knows that all she has to do is turn on the charm and she could have Sean jumping into the nearest bed or backseat with her. She is privately aghast that her overweight friend Ali is the daughter of a wealthy model who buys Ali endless clothes and accessories. We have the wrong mothers, she thinks. I would look so much better in those clothes. I deserve this. She doesn’t.

 

asking for it book cover image
ASKING FOR IT | LOUISE O’NEILL | SALTY POPCORN | BOOK COVER IMAGE

 

With someone’s parents away, there is a house party to shine at. Emma arrives wearing a little black dress that leaves virtually nothing to the imagination. After knocking back the drinks and flirting with all and sundry she accepts drugs off star footballer, Paul O’Brien, and leads him into one of the bedrooms. Paul is 28. Why is Paul at a teenage party?

The sex is rough and animalistic. Paul clearly views Emma as nothing more than a piece of meat and another notch on his belt. There is also the intimation that he is seeking to hurt her. It is a vile coupling where Emma becomes increasingly stupefied and Paul gets rougher and more dominating before inviting other males into the room to rape her.

What ensues is a sickening gang rape. Boys that are classmates willingly have sex with Emma and then urinate on her head. They make insulting comments about her breasts and further degrade her by taking explicit photographs of her with her legs splayed. These photos will eventually be viewed by her parents, her brother, her school, by masses on Facebook.

Emma is mostly unconscious throughout this attack although she can vaguely hear what’s going on around her. When they have finished with her, one of them vomits all over her face and then she is tossed outside in the summer sun where she suffers severe burns. Someone later drives her home, still unconscious and literally dumps her on her front porch like a bag of refuse.

The terrible sexual assault is only the beginning of the nightmare. Her scatter-brained mother, the house-proud Nora, does not have the faintest clue how to handle the situation. Emma has never been close to her but it becomes glaringly obvious that her mother considers Emma is somehow to blame rather than being a victim. Once her father’s princess and the apple of his eye, he is no longer able to look at her. Her only real family support eventually comes from her brother, Bryan although initially he blames Emma for the revealing clothes she wore to the party.

Things deteriorate rapidly once she gets to school on Monday. Her girlfriends don’t want anything to do with her. Startlingly, they accuse of her of trying to seduce some of the rapists to make a point. The rest of her classmates join forces in an horrific hate campaign that they launch on Facebook and via email. Their mantra becomes slut, whore, skank, bitch. The words seep into her fibre like a cancer.

 

Louise O'Neill author image
ASKING FOR IT | LOUISE O’NEILL | SALTY POPCORN BOOK REVIEW | AUTHOR IMAGE – PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN

 

Emma’s initial reaction is to insist that she is okay with what happened and she is adamant that she doesn’t want to prosecute the boys involved. She insists that they are her friends and that she was well aware of what happened and was pretending to be asleep. She also has to concede that she consented to sex with Paul O’Brien. It isn’t until one of her teachers sees the photographs of Emma on social media that the incident becomes a police matter. In the lead up to the trial, Emma becomes public enemy number one – even within her own family.

Violence against women is a serious societal problem. The concept that a woman is asking to be sexually assaulted based on the clothes she wears, whether or not she is promiscuous or whether she “led” anyone on, needs to be extensively re-examined. Slut-shaming and the euphemisms the media use to describe acts of violence need to be revised. The football culture that protects perpetrators and brands women as lascivious Sirens, must end. The lack of domestic violence refuges and facilities and the shameful failure by police to respond effectively cannot be tolerated.

It is evident that O’Neill has closely researched this phenomena. Her characters are all shades of grey and none without flaws. In this way, the scenarios are realistic and the personalities true to life. The inadequate response from Emma’s mother is not only shocking, but is tantamount to betrayal. The reaction of her female friends is appallingly disappointing. The mere fact that no hard questions are asked about why a 28 year old man would attend a high school party let alone supply drugs to teenagers, is disturbing.

O’Neill is careful not to create a situation of us vs them. Emma’s friend Connor and her brother Bryan are solid examples that not all men are potential rapists and not all men disrespect women. O’Neill clearly demonstrates, however, that current societal attitudes about violence against women are alarming and mean that once a victim has endured the physical ordeal of assault, she is then a chronic victim via the police process and the legal system. It’s a nightmare that is relentless and persistent. Add to this the cyber-bullying and trial by social media and a victim can find themselves in one of the nine circles of hell.

This book is important reading for anyone who wants to help change current attitudes as well as for those who have thus far been unable to grasp the concept that violence against women can never be deemed acceptable. O’Neill is a fledgling writer but most definitely a promising one.

 

4 Pops

 

Kernel Fiona was a criminal defence lawyer in a former life and now critiques books and writes short stories. She can’t resist spending large tracts of time in libraries, book shops and at writer’s festivals. Hopelessly in love with the written word, she told JK when applying for a writing position that “I would rather read then breathe” – I knew I had my next reviewer right then.