Book review: Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill...
I read Only Ever Yours some time ago but keep putting off writing my review as I am just not sure exactly where I stand with it and I have so many opinions...
Set in a dystopian future where girls are created to be "perfect" Only Ever Yours is about best friends Freida and Isobel aged sixteen in their last year of school. This is the age when they are chosen (by men) to either become a wife (who is expected to pop out babies), a concubine or if the men have no interest in them at all a chastity (basically a nun.)
On the surface I found the story fascinating. Clearly mirroring in an exaggerated way the pressures of girls growing up and feeling the pressures of living in a man's world. A lot of the themes are true to today's society.
At the forefront of Only Ever Yours was weight. A lot of the girls were forced into eating disorders because of the pressure to be thin. It was hammered in at every opportunity, about how being fat was the worst thing a girl could possibly be. One of the characters began overeating and became overweight and was ostracised from the group. I won't lie- it was a difficult read because the fat shaming was nasty and constant.
Other themes were the obsession with social media- and the desperation to get likes, and be popular. The girls where constantly competing to get more likes on their versions of Instagram and Facebook. As well as that was the over sexualisation of women. The girls idealised rap stars who's videos depicted them with naked concubines on leashes and in PE class they did pole dancing but where also slut shamed if they didn't want to be a concubine and had sex before marriage. There was the disgust for any woman older than thirty, the double standards of men being allowed to be fat (although they were judged by their wealth and profession.)
The girls weren't taught to read, as being intelligent was frowned upon. When one girl says she thinks personality matters, her classmates response is "personality does NOT matter. All that matters is being pretty, you...you feminist." Also interesting was the fact that all female character's names throughout the book where all lower case, and named after models. The men where all named after famous philosophers, inventors, and leaders.
These are all important themes, that should be questioned but here's my problem with the book. Firstly it was written very much in the style of a day in the life of a plastic (from Mean Girls.) We get endless pages of shallow girls whining about their hair and outfits, sniping about each others weight and what they are eating, bullying any girl that isn't pretty or thin enough. Personally it was driving me mad! There was no likeable character. Isobel could have been really interesting but she wasn't in it enough, and honestly I just wanted to punch Freida in the face.
The second problem I had with the book is that I felt the important message it had was lost in the shallowness. It just wasn't made clear enough the this way of thinking is wrong- there was no consequence or satisfying conclusion. In fact it was the opposite. It felt like the book was saying, "there's nothing you can do, you can't fight it. Just play the game." It felt too defeatist and futile.
I know this book tends to get a love/hate reaction but I just don't know what to think of it. Personally the negatives are too strong for me to love it, but it was certainly an interesting and thought provoking read. I've been told that this is a weaker version of The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Attwood- a book that I will definitely investigate. Overall though I am glad that I read it, a book that provides a strong reaction, good or bad is always worth it!
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