In a world in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, women called ‘Eves’ 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.
A few months ago Asking for It, one of Louise O’Neill’s other novels, was at the top of my TBR list. So I happily logged onto an online retailer of books that shall not be named, only to find that it wasn’t available in paperback.
Not being a big fan of the old Kindle and with not enough money for the hardback version (poor graduate, woe is me) I plumped for a readily available paperback version of O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours instead. Having been intrigued by the blurb, I was excited to get stuck in.
Sigh. This is a bit of a funny one for me. In some ways I really relished the book, yet on the other hand, I found it to be slightly shy of that sweet spot that makes you scream MANILOVETHISBOOK to everyone you know. It’s been touted as the iPhone generation’s answer to The Haindmaid’s Tale, which is a pretty big claim and probably not Louise O’Neill’s intended marketing strategy.
For me, although impactful, it certainly doesn’t have the same depth as Handmaid. I was really interested in the idea of a society in which women are no longer born, but instead are bred and taught in schools until they become a wife, a concubine or a chastity (kind of like a teacher/nun hybrid) because it’s just so damn scary. Drawing obvious parallels with the airbrush loving, Kim K addicted, selfie-obsessed society that we exist in, Louise O’Neill takes familiar aspects of modern life like reality TV, social media and body shaming and warps them to create a unique dystopian world.
The world that the author has created is where the book really stands up to scrutiny. The story remains firmly in the school, which involves you in the suffocating intensity that the eves must feel.To me, it was like an unsettling sci-fi version of America’s Next Top model, where the ultimate tragedy is putting on ten pounds and your most embarrassing moment is getting caught with a the remnants of a Mars bar around your gob. This is the tip of the iceberg on the disturbing scale: Eves must ladylike, Eves must be beautiful, Eves must be slim and Eves must always be willing. Shudder.
Mate, I’d be on the pyre with a tag that said ‘malfunctioning’ within minutes.
It’s a standalone setting in YA, and O’Neill deftly brings it to life with a combination of startling satire and precise description. The style of writing is also brilliant, with a sparse kind of prose that is occasionally robotic in a way that matches the subject matter perfectly.
Whilst I relished the setting, I feel like I would have connected to the book on a much deeper level if I had found the characters a little more…well, likable. We spend the book inside protagonist Freida’s head, who thankfully is probably the most three dimensional of the book’s Eves – I could never quite bring myself to dislike her even though O’Neill intends for us to. Isabel had the potential to be the most interesting character of them all, but her subplot lacked depth and as a result, I found her to be a bit of a ghost. The other girls were vacuous and blank (obviously this is kind of the point) but I couldn’t help feeling like O’Neill could’ve used them to explore much more than just teenage girls’ intrinsic desire to compete with each other. Instead they remained little more than robotic Mean Girl reboots, only with much less humour.
Despite how I feel about the characters, I hope that Only Ever Yours is read by teenage girls AND teenage boys. It was a breath of fresh air in a sea of YA novels that portray divided societies, rebellions and wars and it drew some startling parallels with the real world. I took one really important message away from this: these girls were created to constantly compete with each other, to snark about cellulite, call out each others Mars Bars stains and giggle about a spot on the end of your nose that JUST WON’T GO AWAY – we have no excuse.
- Author: Louise O’Neill
- Release Date: July 2014
- Pages: 390
- Rating: 3.5/5
- In three words: Dystopian mean girls.