Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill
frieda and isabel have been friends their whole lives. Groomed as eves at a Euro-zone school, they must go head-to-head to secure their Inheritant – to secure their future – unless they want to face a future as a concubine. As the pressure increases, isabel starts to self-destruct, putting her only asset – her beauty – in peril. The boys – the Inheritants – arrive and are eager to choose a bride but can Frieda’s and Isabel’s friendship survive the ceremony?
The story takes place in a male-dominated dystopia and it’s absolutely fascinating. O’Neill touches on bulimia, anorexia, drug use, sex and misogyny and O’Neill obstacles for frieda that compel you to read further while simultaneously disturbing the reader.
O’Neill injects character into the narrative but better still, she earths us in frieda’s mind so that we’re almost literally seeing everything through her eyes, feeling every emotion and hearing every thought. frieda is a character who struggles to uphold her social responsibilities as this wars with her character and we get inside her head and discover her anxieties, fears and insecurities.
I love the characters because, although they are always striving for perfection, ultimately we see the cracks in who they are and who they’re pretending to be. We see the malicious megan, the insecure and unsure frieda, the indifferent yet caring isabel and the cruel chastity-ruth. It’s interesting as well because there’s layers to every character. frieda is struggling to discover herself in an environment where she is being trained to serve men. When she stops taking her pills and chastity-anne hands her them, she has an internal struggle; she doesn’t want to take them but she knows she must because that is what man has dictated. We see it with Megan too. She’ll lie and betray everyone around her to climb to the top. She tells frieda that she’s not a bitch, she’s just doing what she was created and taught to do. It’s these internal struggles and the oppressive nature of the world that give each character a duality; a duality that we can’t always see but makes the reader wonder about other facets of the characters exist. Everything down to the names (Darwin, in particular) conveys character. Genius
Quality of Writing: 20/20
The writing is phenomenal. Jeanette Winterson summed it perfectly when she said that O’Neill “writes with a scalpel” and here’s the proof:
- “… flickering images anaesthizing us into silence.”
- “Why do I feel as if there is limescale building up inside of me, clogging my air supply?”
- “The words fill my mouth like marbles, crammed too tight for them to escape.”
- “It doesn’t feel like a bridge, I think as she leaves. A bridge would feel some way steady. This feels more like I’m balancing on a tightrope of cobwebs.”
- “The room expands and contracts like an accordion.”
O’Neill creates and shapes a new world, which to me, is a portrait of our world under a microscope and holds kernels of parallel truth for our own society.Her world-building abilities are second to none. She builds a world even though we only see the school. She anchors us in a particular place and reinforces it with societal elements. The eves’ PE classes are basically pole-dancing lessons and they are forced to carry out domesticated tasks like baking in order to gain favour from the Inheritants. Adam created eve. The eves take pills to supprsess their “Unacceptable Emotions”. eves (women) live only to serve the Inheritants (men); a chastity must have her womb cut out and her head shaved in order to sacrifice of all herself to man; a companion lives to serve her husband; a concubine exists to fulfil a man’s carnal desires. Anything that jeopardizes the balance is eradicated; lesbianism is viewed as an act of defiance and the last time it happened, they sewed up their private parts and shot them through the head. This really captures how high the stakes are for the eves; they can’t put a step wrong if they want to survive.
Comparative Literature: 10/10
I’ve honestly never read a dystopian story as powerful as this. The Hunger Games, though not wholly original, was always the pinnacle for me of dytopian fiction but O’Neill has produced something that is flawless; a story that deeply disturbed me.
Overall Score: 100/100
Rate it or Slate it?
Rate it: Winner of the inaugural YA Book Prize and rightly so. Dystopia that delivers on all levels. Dark and edgy and as Jeanette Winterson summed up: “O’Neill writes with a scalpel”.
Books You May Also Like:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – for a similarly cut-throat, dystopian world of betrayal and secrets
The Maze Runner by James Dashner – for an adventure into the unknown with secrets, betrayals and deceit galore