Just so we’re immediately clear, the book’s title refers to exactly what you think it does. The only crime in existence where its offender claiming he was inspired to commit it is accepted as a mitigating factor against being punished for it, as though the briefest glimpse of female flesh is all it takes to obliterate all sense of fundamental morality and be reduced to some slavering Cro-Magnon hominid unable to supress his basest instincts, as opposed to the reality of his making a conscious and wilful decision to perpetrate an unforgivable act of hateful abuse.
Emma O’Donovan is a fun-loving teenage girl, spending weekends partying with her friends and looking forward to when she can leave the small town of her childhood and make her own way in the world. At a party she is horrifically assaulted by several young men while passed out drunk and pictures of the ordeal are posted to Facebook, resulting in her being endlessly mocked for what was done to her. After the story jumps forward a year she has become an empty shell of what she once was, an insular shadow reduced to “pink flesh” and “splayed legs”, harassed daily for her claim of rape, her mother in denial and her father ashamed, and her identity eroded to be solely defined by that one incident, while the trial of those accused of the crime draws near.
Emma is initially reluctant to make the claim of being raped, believing on some level that if she avoids using the word it means that wasn’t what happened, and knowing full well that ours is a world where victim blaming and slut shaming runs rampant, and queries over what the girl was wearing, how much she had drunk or how many previous partners she had are somehow accepted as contributing aspects to the actions of sex offenders. “There are certain words I can lip-read now, I know them so well,” she tells us, with “slut... liar... skank... bitch... whore...” constantly echoing in her mind like some damnation mantra.
The situation is rendered even more egregious by the fact that not only are the actions of the rapists not even in dispute, they aren’t even brought up. Despite there being photos documenting in sickening detail the deplorable things they did to her (thanks to the age of ubiquitous social media where spite can be immortalised with the click of a mouse and the law is woefully inadequate in keeping up with the swift advancement of technology), their behaviour is apparently a non-issue. No, what’s significant is what Emma supposedly allowed these “good boys, from good families” to do (despite being so comatose with drink and drugs at the time she doesn’t even remember it happening) and what kind of girl would let that be done to her? All the focus of the insular town’s gossiping and the larger media free-for-all is on Emma and how she’s a selfish liar who is RUINING THEIR LIVES all for the sake of some attention. It’s enough to make you homicidal with contempt.
Asking For It is an exceptionally important book that everyone should read. It’s not a book you will enjoy reading, nor is it a book that will entertain you while doing so, and it will make you frustrated, upset, angry and disgusted. And that is precisely the point. Emma’s tale is a reflection of things that are happening right now in the real world and will continue to happen with an unacceptable frequency until it is recognised that rapists are the sole reason rape exists and those we entrust to ensure an adequately functioning legal system recognise the problem for what it is and do something about it. The story might be fiction, but every word of it is true.
ASKING FOR IT / AUTHOR: LOUISE O’NEILL / PUBLISHER: QUERCUS / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 3RD