Title: Only Ever Yours
Author: Louise O’Neill
Pub Date: July 3, 2014
frieda and isabel have been best friends their whole lives.
Now, aged sixteen and in their final year at the School, they expect to be selected as companions – wives to wealthy and powerful men. The alternative – life as a concubine – is too horrible to contemplate.
But as the intensity of the final year takes hold, the pressure to remain perfect becomes almost unbearable. isabel starts to self-destruct, putting her beauty – her only asset – in peril.
And then, the boys arrive, eager to choose a bride.
frieda must fight for her future – even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known…
This book was really intense. Don’t expect it to beat around the bush, Only Ever Yours plunges directly into the terrible world O’Neill has created. And the characters’ flaws are certainly not sugarcoated either. Here’s an excerpt from O’Neill’s website, explaining the inspiration behind Only Ever Yours:
I first had the idea for ‘Only Ever Yours’ in January, 2011. It was terrible weather, and the subways weren’t running because of the snow. I was stranded in a Starbucks, nursing a grande green tea until I could get back on the train to make it to work. I was starving, and I kept looking at the cakes, desperately wanting one, but not feeling able to. I had suffered with anorexia and bulimia since I was 15, and the anorexia had flared up again while I was living in New York, with my weight beginning to drop steadily. I remember feeling so tired and worn out, and wishing I could just go and eat the goddamn cake, when an image of a girl standing in front of a classroom popped in to my head. She was wearing a bikini, and a woman with a shaved head was circling her ‘fat’ with a red marker, while the class of girls chanted ‘Fat. Fat. Fat.’ I grabbed my notebook from the bag, and I wrote pages and pages and pages of notes for the next hour. I didn’t use any of it until the following year, when I returned home to Ireland, but I wanted to write a novel that dealt with the pressures on young women to adhere to a certain aesthetic standard, and all the rest of the patriarchal bullshit that is so prevalent in our society.
In this book’s world, women are objects. They are genetically engineered for the pleasure and propagation of the patriarchy. But even though these ‘eves’ exist for a fixed number of roles in the male world, they still worry constantly that they’ll end up in the bottom third of their class.
O’Neill’s eves exist in a constant state of to-be-looked-at-ness. There is not a moment when the eves are not being scrutinized. In classes, the eves are each inspected by their classmates to pick out flaws. The boys in the eves’ age group vote and rank the girls based on appearance. The optimal eve has no personality. She just wants to outperform the others and gain the approval of society – by being as passive as she can be.
But there are rumors – of a forbidden force called love. It’s illegal for an eve to love anyone who is not her husband, but none of the eves really know what ‘love’ is anyway. I spent the first half of this book thinking, “Yeah, but where are the lesbians?!” I refused to believe that in a world where women weren’t allowed in the same room as men until their late teens, no lesbians had ever existed. And for a system with such rigid laws and punishments, the amount of law-dodging a lesbian couple would have to do was minimal. But finally, a romance between eves was mentioned. A rumor. And to say that the problem was taken care of would be an understatement. Nonetheless, I’m glad the lesbian loophole got in there a little bit.
If you are easily triggered by content concerning eating disorders, bullying, self harm, negative body image, or suicide, please do not read this book. Like I said before, it is very intense. The eves have very unhealthy tendencies in almost every possible way, and they are obsessed with keeping things that way. Part of me found Only Ever Yours extremely difficult to think about because of the intense amount of self loathing that went around. Another part of me found the book all the more meaningful because of the discomfort it caused. This was NOT an easy read.
As you might imagine, such an intense book comes with an aptly intense ending. I don’t know what I was expecting, honestly. An uplifting ending wouldn’t have worked, but I’m not content with the devastating ending Only Ever Yours left me with.
So, should you read this book? I don’t know, man. I don’t know if I’m glad I read it, but I know it has stayed with me like a nightmare ever since. I don’t want to remember the way things work in Only Ever Yours, but they’re burned into my memory. The worst thing is thatOnly Ever Yours doesn’t read like a thriller. Or a horror. But that’s what it is, without a doubt. If you want to read a book that is going to just mess you up so badly… then read this. I don’t even know what else to say, except major props to O’Neill for creating a world that resonated so deeply with me.
About the Author:
Louise O’ Neill is from Clonakilty, in west Cork. After graduating with a BA in English Studies at Trinity College Dublin, she went on to complete a post-grad in Fashion Buying at DIT. Having spent a year in New York working for Kate Lanphear, the senior Style Director of ELLE magazine, she returned home to Ireland to write her first novel.
She went from hanging out on set with A-list celebrities to spending most of her days in pyjamas while she writes, and has never been happier.