Desert Isle Keeper
Asking for It
As I read Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It, I had mixed feelings. I hated the story; it was not a pleasant read, and it left me feeling unsatisfied. Ironically though, the reason why I now appreciate it so much is because of how uncomfortable and angry I was while and after reading it. I knew going in that this was not going to be a fun and light-hearted book. In fact, I purposely sought out Asking For It. I’ve ended up giving Asking For It an A- because of the fresh and even taboo perspective that O’Neill brings to the story; she tackles the topic of consent in the most gut-wrenching yet necessary way.
This book tells the tragic story of an eighteen-year-old girl named Emma. Emma attends a party one night, and things get out of hand. The next day, Emma cannot remember anything that happened. But there are pictures that show the gruesome truth. Even with documentation, people don’t want to believe the truth – at first, Emma herself does not want to believe. Emma has to face the trauma of what happened to her surrounded by a town that insists she was asking for it.
I have read other books addressing consent and rape culture, but they were not nearly as disturbing. The victim in these stories is usually a clearly innocent virgin who decides to go to a party for the first time in her life. The narrative continues: while there, she is tragically taken advantage of after one too many drinks. I am not discounting this storyline, because obviously these scenarios do happen and are exponentially horrific. However, in these books I have read in the past, the victim is always the clear victim. Even if the other characters in the story do not believe her, the reader is undoubtedly on her side.
Conversely, Emma O’Donovan (the victim in Asking For It) is unlikeable. She is promiscuous, snotty, and vain – definitely not sweet or innocent. O’Neill skillfully makes the reader question if Emma was, in fact, asking for the treacherous thing that happened to her. She forces the reader to wonder if Emma could have prevented that night from occurring if she had just made some better decisions. This dilemma is important because actual rape cases are not always the cookie-cutter “sweet innocent victim” versus “big bad rapist(s).” It is vital that the perception of rape and consent does not become skewed to this one easily-digestible narrative because it is so more complex than this, which is just what O’Neill demonstrates in this excellent novel. Asking For It forcefully confronts victim-blaming – just because a woman had (lots of) sex before, or was wearing something that some described as ‘slutty’, or was sloppily drunk, does not make any violent sexual actions against her OK. Regardless of whether a victim is a “good person” (and it could easily be argued that Emma is not), she doesn’t deserve what happened to her.
I will not divulge specific details and scenes within the book, but I would highly recommend that everyone read it – especially those juggling the issues of rape culture and consent. This is a story that inflicts mixed emotions, from anger to confusion to sadness. It is is not easy-to-read and does not end with a happy ending, but it could potentially be successful in sparking an important dialogue that dismantles victim-blaming.