Louise O'Neill – Asking For it (5 stars)

Louise O'Neill – Asking For it

A brutal but necessary exploration of everyday misogyny and lack of empathy

Louise O'Neill's first novel, Only Ever Yours, shook up the YA scene so much that it was granted the rare accolade of a separate adult edition. Her new book, Asking For It, will surely follow suit.

Based loosely on the Steubenville High School rape case of 2012, Asking For It follows mean girl Emma O'Donovan after she's had one too many at a party one night. She blacks out; when she wakes up in pain, she can't remember a thing that happened. However, recordings and photos of the events that took place have been circulated throughout her school, her social networks and online. And she soon realises it won't be possible to pretend that nothing happened.

The story unfolds with some triggering detail and a chilling lack of empathy from her family and the local community, showing exactly how tough it can be for a girl who doesn't fit the mould of perfect victim.

Though the book doesn't pull punches when it comes to discussing Emma's rape, the most devastating passages come from the way in which Emma, her friends and their mothers, speak about and to each other. In a book dealing with acts of violence and misogyny, it is surprising that the most sympathetic characters are Emma's brother and her childhood friend Connor. The women in the novel, Emma included, seem to have been so brainwashed by life that they have no hope of seeing above the rising tide of hatred against women.

Asking For It is both a brutal presentation of the internalised and institutionalised misogyny that affect women's lives every day, and a difficult look at what happens when no one, not even yourself, really believes you deserve to be helped.

Out now, published by Quercus.

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