Blurb: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.
But as the intensity of final year takes hold, Isabel does the unthinkable and starts to put on weight. ..
And then, into this sealed female environment, the boys arrive, eager to choose a bride.
Freida must fight for her future – even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known. . .
I had to give myself a little time to settle after reading this book if I wanted to make any sort of coherent analysis. If I hadn’t this would probably be all “ OH MY GOD I CAN’T EVEN THE FEELS !!!!!!!!!!!!!” or something equally awful. That’s a good thing, I suppose, that this book inspired so much emotion in me that I just sat staring at the wall for God knows how long, completely dumbstruck. Thanks a million to Quercus for my copy !!
I was told that this book was shocking by everyone, so I was surprised when I wasn’t shocked by it. It’s not that it’s not shocking, but it’s also realistic, if that makes sense. A lot of the scenes seemed really familiar, like when the girls ( called eves ) sat around in a circle and talked about each other. I also identified with a lot of the thoughts that freida had, the way she puts herself down and her opinion of herself. The ranking that goes on between the eves plays a huge part in the novel. Every year the eves are ranked against each other according to their appearance, and the results are published for everyone to see. They are told that only the top ten eves will be chosen as companions, so this inspires fierce competition between the eves. While we don’t actually get ranked, I think most girls can agree that we subconsciously rank our peers and ourselves. We think “ her hair is better than mine, but my legs are slimmer than hers” and we place ourselves in the hierarchy accordingly. With this ranking system , O’Neill captures perfectly the idea that it’s not even enough to be pretty, you need to be prettier than everyone else. O’Neill also captures our obsession with weight. The eves are told they are supposed to aspire to an optimum weight , not too fat, not too skinny, and they are treated according to their weight. Throughout the novel we see girls being staved and put on kcal blockers if they are overweight, and they are force-fed if they are underweight. The eves must exercise complete control over their weight, and deviating from the mark is seen as a sign of weakness.
Another interesting aspect of the novel is the different attitudes to sex that come hand in hand with companions( the wives ) and the concubines. Companions are considered fairly sexless, they should just ‘lie back and the of England’ for want of a better phrase. The only reason they should ever have sex is to provide sons for the husbands, and they should certainly never enjoy it. Concubines are also definite sex objects, except this time they are allowed enjoy sex. In fact, they have to enjoy it, and they better fake it if they don’t. Both concubines and companions are there to be used by men, despite the fact they have very different ‘functions’. To me they represented the double standard that women are subjected to by some people in todays society. The idea of a termination date is also interesting. The eves are terminated at a certain age according to their role. The concubines are terminated the youngest, next the companions, but the chastities are never terminated. The idea of not being terminated is horrifying to the eves, because god forbid they would be old and ugly. One of the moments that stood out for me is when the picture book was taken off freida because she asked about something that was said in it, the forbidden topic of math. The chastities also discourage the eves from being ‘academic’, and it is considered a bad sign when an eve displays any signs of logical thinking or intelligence.
O’Neill dehumanises the eves extremely well - I even had to remind myself from time to time that these girls were real people. They are seen as disposable commodities, nothing more than a jumble of body parts. This should be shocking, but realistically this is how a lot of women all over the world are still treated today. The writer drops the capital letter from the eves name, and the chastities call them by numbers instead of names. This serves to dehumanise the eves even more.
Only Ever Yours is written by an Irish writer (Yay for the home team) and is definitely one of the best Irish books I’ve ever read. It’s a really fast read. I read it in two days , and once I picked it up I had a hard time putting it down again. The ending is fantastic, it is gut wrenching and exciting and thoroughly surprising. O’Neill’s writing is perfect. It is not laboured or heavy. It doesn’t get in the way of the storytelling, in fact it enhances it. I expected the book to be extremely theme driven, but it was actually driven by narrative, which I prefer, so that made me very happy.
I would recommend this book to everyone over the age of about fourteen (because some of the scenes can be quite distressing). Not only is it important for teenage girls to read it, but I think that boys should read it too, if only to try and understand what the other half of the human population go through on a daily basis. This is a book that should be taught in school, there is so much more in it than what I’ve put in this review.
Five Stars *****
( Also, I hear there is going to be a sequel. Louise, if you're listening, that would make my life. )