I just finished ‘Only Ever Yours’, by Louise O’Neill, literally just finished, and I have no idea what to do with myself now. Do you ever read those books where when you’re done, you have to just sit for a few minutes to think about it before you can move on to anything else? Kind of reeling in shock.
Well, this book was sort of like that, but leaves you more afraid than anything else. It’s like that feeling you get when you know something awful is about to happen but you can’t stop it and you can’t look away. Since I’m writing this after having just
thrown put the book down, it’s less of a impartial review and more of a splurge of confusion and what?! and don’t know what to do now. Kind of like when I read ‘Animal Farm’ as a kid and was furious when I realised it wasn’t actually just about animals. I was a kid and didn’t give two hoots about capitalism/socialism/dictatorships, I was just enraged about what happened to the animals. Apparently I was so mad that I sat down and wrote my opinion of it- something along the lines of ‘I hate this book’ and ‘no one should read it- and unfortunately, for some reason, my mum made a copy of it and sent it in to the school newsletter, so that my ‘I hate this book’ is now printed down forever. Great.
Anyways, I was mesmerised by ‘Only Ever Yours’; even at the points where I wanted to stop reading I couldn’t. Seriously. I read it for 5 hours straight today. It lures you in; the beginning is just casually superficial enough that you don’t realise the depth of this book until you’re several chapters in and hooked; the subject matter is so much more complex than is originally hinted. It has such subtle layers in its plot, building to make you increasingly fearful until the whole big explosive ending.
This is the description on the back of my copy:
which is completely inadequate to give a sense of the depth of this book. It gives a completely different image of the plot, especially the quote:
‘freida must fight for her future- even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known…’
making it sound much more high-school squabble-ish, so that I was kind of thrown when I realised what the book was really talking about. From the front cover:
and the creepy barbie you can kind of tell that it’s going to be sinister, but what makes it slightly more terrifying is how possible it is; dystopian books tend to give you that idea but with this book it’s even more evident. In this book, it is a society where women are artificially created, and are less people and more property, therefore valued only by their appearance. It is such a male-dominated society that the women (called eves) don’t even capitalise their names (freida, isabel, etc) and taught to believe that any other aspects about themselves- intelligence, personality, feelings- are meaningless. There are only 3 options available to them in this patriarchal society, which they must be placed in at the age of 17: companion, concubine, and chastity, each more bleak than the last. The companions function as a wifely figure, the social partner of the man, and share their male ‘companion’ with the concubines, of a lower social status. The chastities serve to raise and ‘educate’ the younger eves, teaching them the social graces they need to please men. Those that fail to meet these categories are sent ‘Underground’. The main character freida struggles with this constant need for perfection, and with her deteriorating friendship with another eve, isabel. It’s a far harsher world than ours but the similarities are clear- it is a world where girls are obsessed with their appearance, addicted to social media, and reliant on the opinions of others to feel good about themselves. It’s an exaggerated view of our idea of ‘perfection’- the girls are constantly shown images of ‘the perfect body’ to contrast with their own, encouraging them to obsess over their own ‘flaws’, and made to believe that they are unworthy of love. Not only this, they’re also raised to believe that this is how things should be- feminism is viewed as a dirty word, and each ‘eve’ is made to believe that she must earn the existence given to her, and pay back value to the society which created her. The idea of anonymity in cyber bullying is also portrayed- also exaggerated, but not by much, and the weight placed on the importance of female beauty is not far off from that of our own society.
Basically, it creeped me out from start to finish, but it was also an incredible book. It draws you in without you noticing and completely immerses you- by the end of the book I was a nervous wreck. It highlights the unhealthiness of placing so much importance and value on personal appearance and the risky measures some take to preserve their beauty at the cost of their health. The character of freida reveals the horrors of her society in a subtly chilling fashion, her relationship with isobel and her inability to match the standards of perfection gaining your sympathy almost against your will. Overall I’d give this 4 stars out of 5:
I’d recommend it, it’s a fascinating book, but with a warning that it’s going to creep you out hugely!