Review: Only Ever Yours by Louise O'Neill
“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.”
Frieda and Isabel are best friends who were bred and raised for one purpose; to please men. As they approach their seventeenth birthday both girls desperately hope to be chosen as “companions”, wives for wealthy young men. If they fail they will become “concubines” (prostitutes) or “chastities” (nuns). Those who really mess up are “sent underground” never to return. The girls fight a constant battle to maintain their target weight, look beautiful, and control their emotions while competing ruthlessly with each other.
Only Ever Yours is like a young adult version Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale updated for the modern age, with 21st century technology like smart phones and social media and futuristic high tech devices that can automatically dress a girl and do her makeup. What it doesn't have is Atwood's subtlety or fluency of language. I think part of my disappointment came from Jeanette Winterson's endorsement on the cover, which made me expect something a bit more like Winterson's writing.The themes are conveyed with a very heavy hand. Things are rarely hinted at when they can be said directly. There's not much in the way of character development; the girls start out insecure and ruthless towards one another as they have been conditioned to be and they stay that way. A more minor quibble I have is the irritating and apparently pointless renaming of everyday objects, especially food. Eggs are “eggies”, chocolate is “chocco” and chicken is “chick chick”. It gets old.
All that being said, it really picked up steam towards the end. If the purpose of the book, in particular the ending, is to leave you feeling shocked, unsettled and sad, then it does that job well. After I finished it I felt like I needed a hug and a large block of chocolate. I can't say I enjoyed reading it but it did make me think. It would make a good book club read, but I wouldn't recommend it for anyone with an eating disorder or body image issues.
Published: July 2015
Rated:★★ ★ ☆ ☆