The novel is split into two parts, before and after the assault. Emma is an unlikeable heroine who is sarcastic and cruel to her peers and a constant attention-seeker with distasteful traits borne of low self-esteem and a craving to be admired. Yet all this is somewhat insignificant for the reader when trying to come to terms with the horrendous ordeal of her gang rape, after which she is dumped like a sack of rubbish on her parents’ doorstep the following day.
Added to the atrocity is the fact that countless photographs posted online are testimony to what happened to Emma. And even worse is the defense of her attackers by the church, the gardai and almost anyone in the community who has a comment to make about her ordeal in its aftermath.
Known in the trade as a crossover novel, Asking For It is a book for older teenagers and adults. Just as in her previous much acclaimed book, Only Ever Yours, O’Neill passes no judgement. It’s up to the reader to think about the moral issues in this thought-provoking novel. Common themes appear in both: women’s appearance, self-esteem, and how they are viewed by men are central.
Nobody comes out of Asking For It looking good. It is frighteningly realistic with no happy ever after, but will without doubt stay in readers’ minds long after reading it.