Friday, 21 August 2015

Only Ever Yours, Louise O'Neill

Pages: 390
Publisher: Quercus
Release Date: 3rd July 2014
Edition: UK paperback, purchased

frieda and isabel have been best friends their entire lives.

Now, aged sixteen and in their final year at the School, they expect to be selected as companions – wives to wealthy and powerful men. The alternative – life as a concubine – is too horrible to contemplate.

But as the intensity of the final year takes hold, the pressure to remain perfect becomes almost unbearable. isabel starts to self-destruct, putting her beauty – her only asset – in peril.

And then, the boys arrive, eager to choose a bride.

frieda must fight for her future – even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known…

Louise O’Neill’s debut has been making a splash since it was published last year and getting a book with the win of the YA Book Prize so I decided I should probably pick it up.

I have incredibly mixed feelings about Only Ever Yours. All of my friends’ review and reactions to this novel made me expect to be enraged, disbelieving and to fall head over heels in love with this book. The first two definitely happened. O’Neill writes with a razor blade and she brings frieda and isabel’s world alive in all it's terrifying glory.

The way that girls and women are seen as second class citizens; they’re designed rather than born for goodness sake! Their names aren’t capitalised, pretty is everything, fat is worse thing an eve can be and good girls don’t show emotion or intelligence. It's infuriating and it was so uncomfortable to read a lot of the time. There is so much focus on the girls’ weight and body shape that I became so aware of my own body. They weren’t allowed to be over 118 pounds or they had their diets restricted and ridiculed for being fat. 118 pounds. That’s about 8 stone. Every focus was on making themselves as appealing to men as they possibly could; it was the be all and end all.

I had to keep putting it down, but I also had to keep reading as otherwise I wouldn’t have gone back to it. It's completely devoid of hope, even more so than The Bunker Diary which I actually loved. Though I appreciate the importance of what O’Neill is saying in Only Ever Yours and her writing is incredible, I didn’t enjoy reading this novel in the slightest and I skim-read the final 100-odd pages to get through it in time for a panel event I went to last night. 

I know I should read Asking for It, O’Neill’s upcoming novel, but I don’t know if I can… Only Ever Yours left me feeling hollow and shaken and it wasn't a pleasant experience. 


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