After my friend Sally read and recommended Only Ever Yours, which I thoroughly enjoyed, it was with great excitement that I saw that O’Neill would be publishing a second book in 2015, called ‘Asking For It’, which tackled the topics of rape culture and social media.
I was pretty excited about this book coming out, really looking forward to it, as was my sister Sinéad. We usually share books, so on this occasion it was her who got it first, and I waited until I saw her next before reading it.
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…
The day I got hold of this book, I sat in bed for the entire morning, reading voraciously and consuming every word as fast as I could because I was entranced – I was hooked in, enthralled by O’Neill’s acerbic prose and biting judgement of the events of the book, and I was also horrified by the bleak outlook of the book and the way it hit me right in the feels, as they say. It was not a nice book. Not an easy book. But it is a hugely important book. It’s a clever book. A painful book. An intelligent, insightful, powerful book.
Asking For It has gained rafts of awards and acclaim – it was Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book of the Year in 2015. It deserves every one of those awards.
Asking For It is definitely one of the best books I read in 2015. I didn’t enjoy it – I don’t think I really could enjoy it. But I feel like it’s a book that needs to be read – that should be read. That is important as a snapshot of our culture, of the times we live in, and of the ideas we perpetuate.
A few things in this book kind of jarred for me – the fact that almost everyone had a car was not something with resonated with my teenaged Irish experience, but having spoken to other friends, it was more accurate for them. The occasional word which slipped in with absolutely the wrong cultural context grated on me incredibly – kindergarten is the one which still comes to mind six months after I read the book.
I don’t think, though, that those little jarring moments were enough to dampen the overall appeal of the book. What’s truly horrendous about it, of course, is that many of the things which take place in the book are squarely based in real life – from the Steubenville rape case and the protection of sports players to the local community figures shaking the hands of those accused.
The ending of Asking For It is bleak – just as bleak as the rest of the book – and I think that’s important. It resonated hugely with me and has stayed in my mind for months after I read it.
Asking For It isn’t a fun or a nice or a pretty or a romantic book. In fact, it’s pretty hard to read. But I still think you definitely should read it.