Thursday, 3 July 2014

Review: 'Only Ever Yours' by Louise O'Neill

Only Ever YoursI waited for a few days after finishing this novel because I wanted to see whether my relatively strong response to it would wear off. It hasn't. I called it 'this generations' 'The Handmaid's Tale'' and although it depends on how it survives the next few years, I think it has every chance to become that influential.
In a world in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, women are bred in schools, trained in the arts of pleasing men until they are ready for the outside world. At graduation, the most highly rated girls become “companions”, permitted to live with their husbands and breed sons until they are no longer useful.
For the girls left behind, the future – as a concubine or a teacher – is grim.
Best friends Freida and Isabel are sure they’ll be chosen as companions – they are among the most highly rated girls in their year.
But as the intensity of final year takes hold, Isabel does the unthinkable and starts to put on weight. .. 
And then, into this sealed female environment, the boys arrive, eager to choose a bride.
Freida must fight for her future – even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known…
I will explain my reasoning for comparing it to Margaret Atwood, but first I want to discuss some other aspects of the novel. Despite suffering from the same problem as many other dystopian novels (explaining how the world got the be such a dystopia), O'Neill does very well in making the world as relatable as possible, making it seem very real. For the largest part she achieves this through incredibly realistic characters. The girls and the school could have been plucked straight from any high school and their obsession with their looks and their social media are very recognisable. This is where the novel really hits a nerve since everyone nowadays spends quite some time on the internet. We are constantly looking at others, at ourselves, comparing, gossiping, etc. In a few choice scenes, O'Neill really manages to make the reader question the readers own actions.

O'Neill's writing style really manages to tell the story from Freida's perspective by remaining true to the fact she is a fifteen/sixteen-year old. In a lot of books featuring teenage characters, these characters are always surprisingly eloquent, have very deep thoughts and are completely and utterly ready for true love. Show me that teenager in real life. Sometimes she seems very self-obsessed, sometimes she cares too much about others, but she is never quite sure of whether what she is doing is the right thing. This creates a quite complex, but interesting, character that will surprise you at every turn. The writing is at times claustrophobic, but intentionally so. There is almost no escaping this girl's head.

Now, onto the comparisons. First of all, comparisons are never a bad thing. Every literary works draws from the tradition of literature and where it doesn't, the text usually falls short. The Handmaid's Tale is a feminist classic and, although dystopian, rang true for many women in the eighties. Although I haven't quite figured out whether there is a feminist angle to this novel, it is incredibly recognizable for girls and women of today. The constant need to compare yourself to others, to hope that you're better than them in the eyes of family and friends and at the same time the desperate need for a sisterhood with the other girls. At times reading Only Ever Yours was quite depressing because you see how much girls objectify themselves. Men play only a small role in this novel and yet they very much are one of the defining influences on the girls. Although at times it might seem a bit dramatic, it is by exaggerating reality that O'Neill is able to comment on society.

Only Ever Yours is a very confronting read, one that won't let you go and will keep you thinking for a very long time. I've already found myself talking about it with a lot of my friends and have made one of them read it. Girls are currently struggling to find a balance between being themselves and living up to unrealistic expectations society seems to have. What makes this novel ever more bitter is that these girls are created, literally built, and that still none of them feel good enough. Only Ever Yours send out a strong message to girls that self-doubt leads down a dark path and I think it is a very inspirational read.

I give this novel...

5 Universes.

I know I usually save this rating for established classics, but I do also hand it out to novels that blow me away. Only Ever Yours seems to be unaware of its own societal criticism, which allows the story to progress rapidly without it becoming to self-conscious. It is a fast-paced novel that will grip your attention till the very end and then leave you with nothing but harsh reality. I definitely recommend this to parents with younger daughters, but they might want to read it first. I will definitely be giving it to my little sister, in the hope that she learns something from it.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I definitely agree with what you said about freida's flaws, they're so important and authentic. I think it's good that she's not defiant either, because it would be unrealistic if she was (the author explained she's suffered mental abuse since birth, and that comes across in the book). I gave this five stars too, glad we're in agreement :)

    Must get onto reading The Handmaid's Tale...