Emma is the prettiest girl in town and she wants everyone to know it. When her partying gets out of control, she’s discovered on the doorstep of her house, with no recollection of how she got there. She doesn’t find out what happened until she goes to school on Monday. How can she know if it was rape if she can’t even remember?

You should have seen her there, on that porch. Just lying there. It was as if she was a bag of rubbish, ready to be thrown away.

Louise O’Neill’s writing definitely deals with extremes. As with Only Ever Yours, Asking For It is relentless in piling on the worst case scenarios, this time dealing with rape and the question of consent. Told in first person narrative from Emma’s perspective, the prose is full of guilt and despair and an inability to escape.

The reader isn’t inclined to sympathise with Emma because she’s a nice person; it’s a brave choice to build up a dislikable character in a story where she is the only one who deserves sympathy. As Emma is introduced, she displays all the characteristics that victim blamers will pounce on. To top that off she is self-obsessed, vain and really not very nice to her friends. Though to be fair no one in this town is nice with the exception of Connor. She measures her own self-worth in how attractive she is to the opposite sex. Maybe she was always a tragic figure…

I’m not all that familiar with Irish law, except that I know they are still a little backward when it comes to women’s sexual rights. Something that really struck me was if this happened in the UK in 2015 that the act of sharing explicit images (and video) without Emma’s permission would be a crime in itself. A crime much easier to prosecute for.

They are all innocent until proven guilty. But not me. I am a liar until I am proven honest.

It’s not exactly an enjoyable book to read, and the fact that it’s a hugely popular book exploring an issue in need of exposure, means that it’s hard to be the one that goes, well I’m not sure I liked it that much. The constant bombardment of “she deserved it” messages, even from Emma herself at times, is rather challenging. Louise says in her author note that she didn’t want to be manipulative, but I think she is. She gives you every possible reason to blame the victim and you have to fight against it.

I wanted more compassion. I wanted someone in that town to maybe report the images in the first place – they do, without doubt, break Facebook terms of service. I wanted people to judge the boys as much as Emma; should the priest not have condemned their sexual acts outside of marriage too? How on earth can people carry on thinking they are “good boys” when they are creating and sharing porn on social media is beyond me.

Yes, these are all examples of injustice in the real world, but the amalgamation of so many into one little town was too much. And her parents, they were perhaps the worst. Should they not want to protect their daughter, even if she made mistakes? Even if it wasn’t rape? With the media attention and the horrible townspeople, I was begging them to move away. Yet her father can’t even look at her and her mother is more concerned about keeping up appearances.

The mob mentality on social media, and what is effectively online bullying, was the most destructive force in this town. Not the rape accusation by itself. And from Emma’s narrative, for right or wrong, I don’t think she would have been as hugely affected if it hadn’t been recorded and shared. She has to relive her violation again and again, when otherwise she may not have remembered it. She was the one at the start who dismissed her friend’s rape as something you just have to let go. I wonder what her reaction would be if the tables were turned and hers hadn’t been so public.

Drink-driving is bad, we had always been told. Drink-driving is dangerous. Drink-driving kills people, it ruins lives. There are other ways to ruin lives. We were never warned about those.

I think Emma’s decision at the end is entirely understandable and as a reader I shared a sense of relief. On one hand, the book does exactly what it sets out to do, but on the other, it overloaded me so much that I wanted it over.

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Book Source: Purchased