“We have never had a class on how to say no to men while simultaneously never saying no to them.”
ONLY EVER YOURS is a dark and disturbing commentary on society’s reckoning of the female role, set in a world far too close for comfort. Women are no longer born, they are created as a reflection of perfection, trained for their entire lives in the art of being female. Each year three times as many eves are created than boys born – these boys grow up knowing the eves’ faces, ranking their fotos regularly to determine who is the most attractive, but they will not meet until the eves are nearing the Ceremony which determines their lives forever.
Kept in solitude during the night, the eves are played ceaseless mantras to wash their thoughts: I am a good girl, I am pretty, I am always agreeable, I always do as I am told. During the day, their appearance is scrutinised, their self-control is tested and they are taught lessons of utmost importance: how to please a man, how to compare themselves to other women, how to serve their purpose.
Best friends freida and isabel are approaching the final year and the stakes are higher than ever. This is the year the Inheritants will make their final judgement and condemn the girls to life as either companion, concubine or chastity. Desperately clinging to her lifelong desire to become an honoured companion, the pressure on freida gradually mounts throughout the story to an excruciating peak. The tension is well-built and well-paced, giving the whole story a creeping sense of unease that stayed with me long after reading the final page.
freida can be a difficult protagonist to like at times due to her behaviour – she makes a string of terrible choices and her justifications are hard to swallow. Having access to her thoughts was a little disturbing too; she is a product of her environment after all. Overall I really enjoyed her as a narrator and felt she gave a very true reflection of life in the world created for her. I felt a little maternal towards her by the end, as even though she made such big mistakes I loved her and just wanted to get in the story to protect her.
It’s made clear from the beginning that isabel is significant, but I could not figure out why until the very end. Keeping everyone guessing, she is enigmatic and mysterious and I couldn’t help but be sucked into the hysteria surrounding her. The other eves all envied her and wanted to know her secrets, look like her and be like her.
The other characters, especially the eves, are presented as extras, a means to an end. To freida they are either competition to beat to win the heart of the boys or tools to exploit in her pursuit. The girls were vapid and soulless, perfectly moulded into the roles prescribed to them. I loved the fiery attitudes of the chastities and felt they added an extra dimension to the secondary characters with their more powerful role in such a heavily patriarchal society.
Stylistically, this book took my breath away and left me reeling. ONLY EVER YOURS is cutting with its honesty and is brutally unforgiving. I watched helplessly as freida pressed the self-destruct button and felt her pain as vividly as if it were my own. Louise O’Neill is to the point and sharp with her words, her style mirroring the themes of the book in perfect harmony. The decision to use lower case letters for female names is so intelligent – it’s such a simple but striking reminder of inferiority throughout the entire novel. It begins to feel almost natural as you turn the pages, so assimilated to the idea by the end.
Deeply emotional and terrifyingly twisted, ONLY EVER YOURS didn’t just break my heart, it ripped it out and took pleasure in stomping all over it. This book should be required reading – as a female of course I am acutely aware of how society treats us and pushes us to think, but freida’s world truly woke me up to the horrors we ignore in everyday life. Yes, it’s speculative fiction, scifi, dystopian… but every moment is based on mountains of truths. It’s opened my eyes to how I think and feel and I certainly won’t be able to let this book go for a long time.
Louise O’Neill’s second novel, ASKING FOR IT, lands on 3rd September 2015. Though it’s bound to be another emotionally draining read with themes of rape culture and victim blaming, I know Louise will handle it with grace, respect and brutal honesty.