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…
Wow!!! Just wow!!!! Another absolutely fabulous book from Louise O’Neill hot on the heels of her debut, Only Ever Yours, last year. I have just raced through this book in 2 days, and likely would have read it quicker but work got in the way (damn this having to earn a living thing!).
The book can be pretty much divided into two parts – pre and post rape. In Only Ever Yours I was struck by O’Neills cutting portrayals of teenage girls and their general bitchiness towards each other. It is a skill O’Neill uses to great effect again in the pre-rape section of this book. Emma is awful to her friends. She is the Queen Bee and knows it. She is what Irish mammys would describe as a “right little madam”. And as with Only Ever Yours we see the pressures teenage girls are under. Emma is trying to be the perfect girl in everyone’s eyes. She must be pretty, popular, smart, a “good girl” around adults, while the party girl amoung her friends. With boys she must walk that tight rope between being classed a slut and labelled frigid. It is not an easy place to be, yet it is the reality of our society. Then It happens and everything changes…
Suddenly Emma is no longer the “good girl”. She is a slut, a whore…She was asking for it! And so a new aspect of the double standard to which girls and women are held, is discussed. Emma, the victim, a “good girl” from a “good family” is vilified, while her perpetrators, also supposedly “good boys” from “good families” are viewed as victims of Emma’s slander. Why the double standard? The boys were just being boys. Emma should have been more careful. Emma shouldn’t have asked for it!
The version I read included an afterword by O’Neill. Like every woman she has been the subject of unwanted sexual attention and advances. Every woman has been groped without her consent or pestered by that creepy guy in the club who won’t take no for an answer. And that is at the “harmless” end of the scale. The book is a clear and damning indictment of society’s understanding of rape. To most it is being dragged into a dark alley or being drugged unknowingly. However people seem to still struggle with the idea that if you are too drunk, high or generally out of it to give consent then that too is rape. At the very least they will blame the victim far more severely then in other cases. It is an idea we need to challenge.
This is a book I think everyone should read. It will challenge your preconceptions and force you think, how would I view someone is Emma’s place? What do I consider rape to be?