Guest book review: Asking for it by Louise O’Neill

Emma O’Donovan wakes up in pain. She’s not wearing any underwear and has absolutely no idea what happened to her the previous night. Is it still rape if you can’t remember?

Spoiler alert: Yes… yes it is. If your answer is anything but yes, then it’s only serves to show just why books like these are important.

Special thanks to my colleague, Marisa Crous, for her brilliant review of Louise O’ Neill’s Asking for It. Review first appeared on

You can purchase a copy of the book via

Asking for it by Louise O’Neill (first published in 2015 by Quercus)
A guy suggestively licks his lips as he passes you in the street on your way to work or someone calls you a “slut” for sleeping with more than one guy.

Or a school girl wears a dress to a party, one that can easily be mistaken for a t-shirt. She gets wasted and wakes up the next afternoon on her parents’ porch - sunburnt as hell, sans underwear.

The latter happened to Emma O’Donovan. A gorgeous, popular and confident 18 year-old teenage girl from the fictional town of Ballinatoom in Ireland. Yet another small Irish town fast-experiencing the Americanisation of youth culture.

‘Asking for it’ by Louis O’Neill is an eye-opening read, subtly pointing out the vast range of discipline techniques used by men and also by women to continually punish females for their seemingly provocative, “slutty” behaviour. Basically, because they are not behaving like “good girls”.

Dealing with issues of privacy in the age of social media, where victim-blaming persists despite supposed gender equal societies and opportunities, slut-shaming has become the ultimate punishment tool.

The most dominant theme in this book is that of consent. Consent or permission: to touch, to feel, to be. Does it matter if you can’t remember? Was it really rape if you didn’t experience the rape part itself?

Of course it matters. Of course it is rape.

The story of what happened to this fictional Ballinatoom Girl in O’Neill’s novel, is much the same as the much-publicised Steubenville, Ohio case back in 2011.

An unsupervised party, drunken kids and then a “slutty” girl gets gang-raped. It’s captured and shared via text and on social media. The perpetrators? The town’s jocks, the so-called “good boys from good families”.

The girl remembers nothing. Yet she’s to blame by the entire town. She’s the whore who flirted, dressed inappropriately and asked for it.

From the students at Emma’s school to her best friends and her loving parents, Emma gets blamed. What were you wearing Emma? How much did you have to drink?

Not, how do we punish the guys who raped Emma. No. The question of consent is not one that needs to be discussed at length. There is a yes or a no. Passed out, unable to respond should by any standard be seen as a clear no.

Giving permission or consent basically boils down to the issue of respect. And women are still not respected. And it’s evident in the most subtle things like a guy licking his lips at you: you’re a thing.

Or Emma’s Mam (mother), at one point in the book, notes that it’s silly of her to expect her husband (Emma’s father) to find her attractive if she “just let’s herself go”. (Her fault).

Or when Emma finally sees the rape pictures posted online, on a page titled “Easy Emma”, the comments read: “Some people deserve to get pissed on” and “slut, whore”. Pictures of Emma getting raped by a group of local boys. They rape her, vomit and pee on her before dumping her on her porch like a bag of trash. (Her fault).

Your body, her body, all women’s bodies, no matter their class or race are not there to be used.

And what kind of twisted fuck wants to have sex with a lifeless corpse?

A sick one, not a “good boy from a good family”.


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