freida and isabel have been best friends their whole lives. Now, aged sixteen and in their final year at the School, they expect to be selected as companions – wives to wealthy and powerful men. The alternative – life as a concubine – is too horrible to contemplate. But as the intensity of the final year takes hold, the pressure to be perfect mounts. isabel starts to self-destruct, putting her beauty – her only asset – in peril. 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 can’t exactly remember when I first heard of Only Ever Yours, which was the debut novel of Irish author Louise O’Neill, but I know I wanted to read it ever since I’ve known about its existence. I even mentioned it in my Bookish Wish List a few weeks ago.
Having since obtained it, I read it during this year’s Booktube-A-Thon. And I loved it. Throughout the novel, I feel like not a whole lot of information is given about the, somewhat dystopian, world it’s set in – there is especially not a lot of information about what goes on beyond the walls of the School. We, as readers, know as much about her world as freida does, which is intriguing. Rather than lots of things being explained by freida, they just are. We don’t know why they’re the way they are, or how the world has developed to be like it is in the novel, because freida doesn’t know. All she knows, and we know, is that she needs to perfect – she needs to constantly improve herself so she can fulfil her life’s goal to become a companion and bear sons.
The lengths these girls go to in order to improve themselves and upkeep these impossible standards are frightening. What’s perhaps even scarier is the fact that at times freida would be talking herself or others down, in a way that reminded me of ways I’ve thought about myself and/or others, as well as how I’ve heard others speak of themselves and each other. It’s appalling that we feel the need to think and speak so badly of ourselves and others – we’re only human and flaws are a part of our existence.
As for the novel itself – it was great. It fascinated me to read from freida’s perspective as she struggles to maintain the desired standards. Furthermore, I also feel Louise O’Neill portrayed a very plausible cast of characters, and I would be eager to learn more about each individual. For example, I would have loved to know more about the outside world – for example what the girls’ lives would be like after becoming companions, concubines and chastities. Or even how the boys felt in their roles as Inheritants.
The manner in which this story was told, as well as the themes that are prevalent throughout it, reminded me of both Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Which, let’s be honest, are far from terrible stories to be reminded of when reading something.
So if you like those two novels, or generally enjoy calm and somewhat eerie dystopian reads, I would highly recommend Only Ever Yours. I will definitely be picking up her upcoming novel Asking For It when it’s released (though I might wait until the paperback comes out), and I can’t wait to see what else Louise O’Neill will write in the future!