Review | Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

A grim and frightening vision executed without pity. 4/5 stars.

Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill book cover

The blurb: 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…

My take:

Have you ever finished a book and felt dazed? Unsure of whether you just read it or if it hit you across the face? Well that was my experiencing upon reaching the final page of Only Ever Yours.

[SPOILER ALERT] If you want to know absolutely nothing about this book, please just skip to the bottom now. I won’t say anything specific, but my comments might give certain things about the ending away.

Blimey. Congratulations to Louise O’Neill for having the courage to stick to her guns and carry her grim vision of a alternative future to its bleak conclusion.

Given they are both fictional accounts of a future society in which women are robbed of their rights as fertility declines, Only Ever Yours is often compared to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. However, if you want a true idea of the tone of Only Ever Yours, a better comparison would be with 1984 or A Brave New World. In The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred has her memories pre-Gilead. Her escape into these memories and the often beautifully lyrical language used by Atwood give the reader some respite from the horror of being a woman in the regime. There is no such respite in Only Ever Yours. The girls have been born into the system and know nothing else. And the writing style is stark and unforgiving, as hard and honest as the mirrors that cover practically every surface in the School.

I can also understand the comparisons to Mean Girls. But that film was a comedy. There is nothing funny in Only Ever Yours, which depicts a terrifyingly believable world in which girls are bred to be Stepford Wives with eating disorders and absolutely no sense of self-worth. My feelings swung from horror to frustration, then to rage and finally despair. And megan (yes, all female names are in lowercase) makes Regina George look like a cute cuddly kitten.

The first two thirds of the book were better than the final act. In the last third things start to disintegrate (although this is understandable) and I wasn’t as gripped as I had been earlier in the story. I think fifty pages could have been shaved off somewhere and O’Neill would still have got all her points across.

[HERE ENDETH THE SPOILERS]

Overall: this is not an “enjoyable” book. It is superbly gripping, horrifying and thought-provoking. If that sounds like what you’re after then I highly recommend it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to re-read some Rainbow Rowell to cheer myself up.

 


Claire Huston / Art and Soul
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6 thoughts on “Review | Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

  1. Ditto here on your opening sentance, I finished t his book with a slight headache,and couldn’t get it out of my mind. It was a book you couldn’t look away from and couldn’t see an end in sight. I’m glad I read it, but would be a bit ‘worried’ about reading ‘Asking for it’ now, although I will, given that the author is so brave! I found it to be a great, but horrible book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I completely agree about reading Asking For It. I imagine it’s very good and thought-provoking but, knowing what it’s about, I think I’d find it rather traumatic. I might need a good few months or a year before I’m ready for another of her books!

      Like

    • It’s so much darker than The Handmaid’s Tale and quite different in many ways. The narrative style and language is also very different… so you may find it a better read. That said, it’s not exactly an “enjoyable” book. In fact, it’s made me think twice about reading O’Neill’s other book – Asking For It. I’m sure it’s very good, but I don’t think I can read anything so dark and difficult again for a while. I need a break! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • hmm maybe- I mostly had problems with the concept, so I’m still not sure. But I definitely agree about darker reads! I struggle to pick up books that are dark as well- it makes it really hard for me to pick up adult dystopias without putting them down again :/

        Liked by 1 person

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