So my No 1 read for 2014 was the gripping “Only Ever Yours” by Louise O Neill. I caught up with her to ask a little bit about it and here is what she had to tell me.
I know that this novel had its inspiration in your personal experiences – Would you tell us a little bit about that?
Of course, my own battle with anorexia and bulimia shadows the story as the girls are obsessed with weight and their calorie intake, and that was a deliberate decision. I went to an all-girls boarding school, so I’m very familiar with the environment of a single sex education. However, I found it interesting re-reading my novel as I could see different threads running through it that had also been inspired by my own personal experience, but I hadn’t consciously realised that while I was writing Only Ever Yours.
Self Image can be a difficult issue for teenagers, what do you think needs to change in our society to help them with this?
The work here needs to begin far earlier than when girls have entered adolescence. Almost from birth, they are given Barbies to play with and Disney movies to watch. Both of these perpetuate an ideal of beauty that tends to be unrealistic (minute waists, large breasts etc) and homogenous. (usually caucasian.) We need to see all types of beauty, in all shapes and sizes, so that teenagers have the tools to reject the idea that there is only one type of physicality that can be considered attractive.
Did you always have that ending in mind for the story or did it develop along with frieda’s story?
I always knew how the story would end. ‘The Awakening’ by Kate Chopin is one of my favourite novels, and I loved how vague and uncertain the ending of that book is. I wanted to achieve something similar in Only Ever Yours. I wanted an ending that would feel shocking but also almost inevitable. I had set up certain rules within the world of the book, and I believe that was the only way freida’s story could have ended.
Which book would you most like to give to friends and family this Christmas?
I have a few! ‘You’re Grand’ by Tara Flynn is a great stocking filler, and I’ve also bought “Young Skins” by Colin Barrett for a few people as I adored it.
Thank you Louise!
My Original Review:
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.
So I read the final page of “Only Ever Yours” and was incoherent for about half an hour. Literally. Thats how good it was. Unbelievably believable, , compelling, utterly riveting and scary as hell when you think how much of this imaginary world could so easily be our reality given a simple twist of history or fate, I was completely undone by the whole reading experience.
We follow along mostly with frieda – she’s an “Eve”, a female bred for the pleasure or service of men. She is at “school” learning to be perfect, respectful, pleasing and beautiful, and hoping to be ranked in the top ten which almost guarantee’s that she will become a companion, wife to a man with the sole purpose really of bearing him sons. Each day is filled with a number of classes and activities to ensure perfection in all things – weight, skin, hair, and attitude. When Frieda’s friend Isabel starts gaining weight disproportionately, Frieda is torn between supporting her in her time of need and maintaining a distance. But Isabel is behaving strangely and all is not as it appears.
It is really difficult to put into words the impact this book has – Ms O Neill has a unique writing style which literally pops off the page – you are drawn into this strange yet oddly familiar world – where even when there is a drug for everything, the young girls face the same issues that can be found in our world. Bulemia, anorexia, self esteem issues and peer pressure. The school environment is very similar to high school – the popular girls rule, any sign of being different is frowned upon. As the time moves ever closer for the ceremony that will see the girls move into their next life as either companion, concubine (basically prostitutes) or chastities (those who remain in school and teach the next generation) frieda’s world starts to disintigrate into madness as she struggles to maintain her worth. It is heart pounding, captivating and often hard to read.
I am deliberately being a bit obtuse about plot details – it will shock you, enthrall you and completely absorb you during the time you are in it, but if I tell you too much of the whys and wherefores the impact will lessen. And that would not do, oh no not at all.
This book is most definitely “The Handmaids Tale” for a new young generation – Whilst it is dark, uncompromising and utterly daunting to read as a woman, it is and should be a classic in the making. If you want a happy read, an uplifting and redemptive tale then look away now – this is stark, unrelenting and absolutely gut wrenching, yet completely fascinating and will make you consider a lot of things. If my daughter were still a teenager I would be throwing this book at her. I’m probably going to throw it at her anyway. This one will stay with me for a long time.
Basically, just read it now. Thats all I really NEED to say.
Find out more here: http://www.louiseoneillauthor.com/
Follow Louise on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/oneilllo