Around 20 year ago, as an undergraduate student, I took a class in Australian Literature in which I read the now highly acclaimed novel by Andrew McGahan, Praise. Even today I vividly recall my jaw dropping to the ground as I soaked up the gritty details of McGahan’s depiction of illicit drug use and sexual escapades. It was, in reflection, the first book I ever read that genuinely surprised (or perhaps shocked) me, and it was possibly the first book that I felt spoke for the experiences of my generation. I suppose it was an example of New Adult Fiction, probably before the term had even been coined. I mention this here because O’Neill, like McGahan, writes on a topic with a certain grittiness that is confronting, yet at the same time succeeds in speaking for today’s youth with such striking clarity.
Asking For It tells the story of small town 18 year old Irish girl Emma. Emma has a bright future ahead of her; popularity, a beautiful face, intelligence and a perfect family with connections. However, following a single night of partying her perfect life is changed forever, shattered in an instant. The next day, when Emma wakes, she has no recollection of the events of the previous night, yet soon realises that the world does know what happened, and in explicit detail, via social media. Told in a raw and brutally honest first person style we follow Emma’s demise, watching with horror at her emotional descent. What follows is a powerful narrative that raises pertinent questions about the existence of double standards for sexuality in society, the dangers of technology in this sphere and the issue of consent when understanding and defining what is (and isn’t) rape.
Asking For It, while being marketed as YA, probably leans more into the realm of New Adult. The book references sexual acts that, while not pornographic, may be confronting for readers in the younger end of YA. Furthermore, O’Neill writes with an honesty that is unapologetic. Her characters swear and behave in a manner that many adults will find (for want of a better word) shocking. I don’t mind this, in fact I think that O’Neill absolutely nailed it, depicting today’s youth the way they really are, in all their narcissistic glory. Inevitably, the sensitive nature of this book’s content, make this a tricky choice for sharing in the classroom. Yet, having devoured it in the space of 24 hours, I feel that this is one of those books that screams to be read and shared and discussed at great length. My highest praise for Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It, a novel that I predict will speak loudly to a young generation grappling with technology and questioning the implications this has for every aspect of their lives.
Asking For It will be released for publication, 8th September 2015.
For an interview with Louise O’Neill where she discusses feminism and her reasons for writing her previous book “Only Ever Yours” follow this link.