Emma O’Donovan is the girl that always likes to be the centre of attention in her group. She doesn’t like it when people are looking at her friend Jamie more and isn’t greatly pleased when Jamie scores higher marks in an exam than she does. She’s extremely aware of her looks and isn’t averse to putting others down.
Emma is the central character in Asking For It, Louise O’Neill’s latest work, following the excellent Only Ever Yours. She’s taking on extremely big issues and themes and this will be seen as a tough read by some, but it’s one that deserves the attention it has received since its publication.
The book features harrowing depictions of rape and its aftermath. The horror of this gets worse as it progresses and Emma is unable to remember the events of the night. People are quick to judge her after the photos, to brand her and shame her. The word ‘rape’ hits a nerve, it isn’t something she wants to take on .
There’s a sense that the community is against her. This is a GAA place and people are quick to defend the other people involved as they’re seen as pillars of the community. O’Neill is extremely good at digging into this and conveying the control and influence people have when they’re involved in the local sporting world.
Emma has to suffer trial by media, locally, on radio and even on The Late Late Show. She’s made to feel that things are her fault. She’s no longer Emma, she’s now the Ballinatoom Girl. People are out to judge her without knowing what really went on. It’s her that is at fault in the eyes of many, not the other people that were involved.
Asking For It is an important book. It challenges the way we handle things as a society and shows how quick people are to make judgements and not treat people with respect and dignity. It looks at how a society can turn against a victim and not show any consideration for what that person has gone through. Once again, O’Neill has created a work that should be widely read by teenagers and adults.