Warning: Contains mentions of rape and rape culture
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…
This book might have been the most important one I read all year. It’s the book I tell everyone I meet to read. It’s probably also the hardest, because it does not pull any of its punches. It is an unflinching exploration of the impact of rape and rape culture. Emma O’Donovan is not a nice character. She’s mean, and manipulative and out for what she can get. She still doesn’t deserve what happens to her. She doesn’t deserve to be raped by multiple members of the local football team. She doesn’t deserve to have her reputation dragged through the mud. She doesn’t deserve to be blamed for their actions. She doesn’t deserve to blame herself for what they did to her. She doesn’t deserve to be ostracized by her community because everyone thinks she’s destroying the team’s lives. What about her life? What about her right to enjoy a night out without having her body violated and her dignity ripped away? And the most horrifying thing about this book is that something like this happens in multiple places, at multiple times every day. Rape Crisis UK say there are roughly 11 rapes an hour in England and Wales. Think about that for a minute. Asking For It isn’t fiction, it’s the horrifying truth.
So no, Emma O’Donovan is not a person you’d expect to find yourself empathising with, but you do, because Louise O’Neill’s writing makes you understand what Emma is going through. You see her despair in the second half of the book, which takes place a year later, as the boys are close to trial, and she broke my heart. O’Neill makes you feel everything Emma feels. It’s harrowing and bleak, and definitely not one to pick up if you’re after something quick and easy to read, but it is something everyone should read. Rape culture is deeply embedded in our society but Asking For It calls it out in the most powerful way.