Asking For It by Louise O’Neill is a young adult fiction book set in a small Irish town that tackles the issue of rape culture. It tracks the reactions of the community throughout the year after a teenage girl is raped at a party, covering a range of viewpoints from the victim, to social media, to the press, to the girl’s family.
I’ll start by saying I had high hopes for this book. All the reviews I’ve read online told me it was an important book, so naturally my expectations were high. I was ready to be blown away by fantastic writing, poignant moments, and important messages. And I was – to an extent.
The way the novel sets up the story is excellent. It very deliberately provokes certain reactions to the main character (namely that she is asking for it), which in turns forces gut-reactions from you later in the novel which you are (hopefully) uncomfortable with. It’s an excellent, thought-provoking device.
From a structural point of view, I also really enjoyed the book. Each chapter is a day, and throughout the novel only a handful of days are actually described ‘live’ – the rest of the events (which span an entire year, and more) are all told retrospectively, through flashbacks and the like. It’s refreshing to read a book – particularly a YA book – that doesn’t start at the beginning and end at the end, with every detail plotted in between.
Speaking of endings, without giving too much away, the ending is not an ending – and again, I liked that. Although open-ended novels frustrate me, I felt with this particular book it was fitting. It would have been untrue to life to create a happily ever after ending, and it would have been too easy to have a desperately tragic ending. Leaving it all ambiguous felt appropriate to me, since the reality of the subject matter is often open-ended, ambiguous, and un-ending.
Other highlights include the way that social media is present throughout the entirely of Asking For It. It highlights nicely the impact that social media and the internet has had on cases like this (that is, rape cases), and – most importantly – the way social media is written about actually reflects the way social media is used. Too often you read YA novels that fail to understand the way young people actually interact, so it was refreshing to read a book that actually got it right.
Whilst there were many positives in this novel (if, indeed, there can be anything ‘positive’ about a story about rape), however, overall I was pretty disappointed. Perhaps it was because my expectations were so high, perhaps it was because I’m not the target audience, or perhaps it was because I have already read a lot of work on rape culture. Whatever the cause, it was not a hugely important book to me.
Yes, it was a moving story; and yes it raised many incredibly salient issues, but it didn’t hit me the way I expected it to. I did not – despite the subject matter – find it a particularly distressing book. I kept finding myself willing the book to go deeper – whether that was by delving deeper into the reactions of the family, or by providing other voices within the novel itself (for example, it would have been fascinating – although admittedly very difficult – to give the attackers an actual voice, in contrast to the victim).
Overall, would I recommend it? Absolutely. To many, it probably opens up issues that they hadn’t considered; and I can see why people are calling it an important book. It’s certainly an important book for teenagers, or people who aren’t as aware of rape culture as I perhaps am. But was it important to me? No. It was a good book, but I wanted more from it.