Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill, published July 2015 by Quercus.
Read: October 2015
Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary/Feminism
Get It Now: Wordery
Goodreads Synopsis: eves are designed, not made. The School trains them to be pretty. The School trains them to be good. The School trains them to Always be Willing. All their lives, the eves have been waiting. Now, they are ready for the outside world. companion… concubine… or chastity? Only the best will be chosen. And only the Men decide.
This is O’Neill’s debut novel. I read and LOVED her second novel, Asking For It, before I picked up this one, so I went into it with high hopes and big expectations. I was not disappointed.
Only Ever Yours is set in the near-future, where women are born, raised and trained to be the property of Men, in three specific forms: companion (AKA wife), concubine (AKA mistress), and chastity (AKA teacher of future eves). Key themes throughout the novel include beauty and stereotypes, weight and eating disorders, mental health, and attractiveness/submissiveness (they are basically deemed to be the same thing). The girls in this novel are pitted against one another in an attempt to win the “best male” at the end of their schooling, with a weekly competition/announcement of who’s the most physically attractive in their year group. It’s a pretty infuriating read, but scarily not as far from reality as you may want to believe.
O’Neill pays attention to detail – none of the female characters’ first names have capital letters, for instance. It is this subtle, yet incredibly meaningful writing style, that helps set O’Neill apart. She is a fantastic writer, and she needs to be, because the topics she covers aren’t pleasant or easy to read about. There are times when you feel uncomfortable, and there are definitely times when you feel sad. This is a dystopian world, but it largely feels just like our own. You will have made the same comments as the girls in this book, you will have felt the same way as the girls in this book, and you may even be treated by a boy, the same way the boys treat the girls in this book. For a book to be so uncomfortable, yet make such an impact, you can be damn sure there’s good writing in here.
There were a couple of different story-lines that developed throughout this novel. The book is told from freida’s point-of-view, but we get an insight into the lives of a couple of other eves, including the struggles of isabel, freida’s ex-best-friend, and at one time, the most beautiful girl in the year group. We also get to root for a love interest in the form of Darwin. I believe in spoiler-free reviews, so I won’t be discussing what happens with either of these characters, but there were times I was very angry and upset at both of them.
I’ve seen a lot of reviewers compare this to The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I have absolutely no opinion on this, as I haven’t read it yet, but I definitely intend to in the future. Although an excellent read, I did prefer O’Neill’s second book, Asking For It, which has been reflected in my rating.
“We are who we are. Sometimes, no matter how much someone might want to, they can’t escape that.”
“We have never had a class on how to say no to men while simultaneously never saying no to them.”
“All eves are created to be perfect but, over time, they seem to develop flaws. Comparing yourself to your sisters is a useful way of identifying these flaws, but you must then take the necessary steps to improve yourself. There is always room for Improvement.”
Have you read Only Ever Yours? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!