Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill
Published May 12, 2015
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Wow…where do I start?
With elements of The Stepford Wives, 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale and Mean Girls’ this book is ABSOLUTELY one of the more unusual, disturbing, and intriguing books that I have read in quite some time.
Apparently it was first published as a young adult book but is now being republished as an adult book.
This takes place in a “future” world where women (called eves) are created purely for male pleasure. They are no longer bred naturally but manufactured to become one of three things when they hit the age of seventeen….companions, concubines, or chastities. A companion is a version of a physically perfect wife whose duty is to bear sons and look after their husbands. Concubines are for the man’s sexual gratification and the eve will likely live with many other women. Chastities seemed to be considered the leftovers (not good enough for companions or concubines) and they run the school and take care of the eves.
We see life through the eyes of an “eve” named frieda. She is in her final year at the school to learn to be perfect. She is hoping to be ranked highly so that she may become a companion to the boys that will arrive eager to choose one of them for a bride. For many years freida has been best friends with isabel and they are usually among the most highly rated girls in their year. They are sure they will be chosen as companions and remain best friends as they raise their sons together. But isabel has been behaving very strangely and when she starts to gain weight (the WORST offence at this school), frieda is torn between supporting her and maintaining her distance. She is terrified that she won’t be chosen and will end up as a concubine or chastity.
But all is not as it may seem…..
The “eves” are cut off from the outside world and live in a school environment where they are trained on how to remain beautiful and learn how to make men happy. But they are commonly told “there is always room for improvement”. They are ranked on their attractiveness and constantly forced to strive for perfection. Encouraged to compare themselves to their fellow eves to learn how they may improve.
The girls are discouraged from showing any emotions or anything that may make them less attractive. Crying is prohibited as is showing any type of intelligence. For example, when frieda was younger she was playing a game where the barbie doll mentioned “math”. When frieda asked one of the chastities what “math” was the game was quickly taken away.
This was a difficult read at times and I occasionally had to put the book down for a few minutes. Especially when they were set in competitions against each other in a “forced” bullying way. For example a girl would stand at the front and comments would be thrown at her. Almost tame ones like “your hair is looking dull perhaps you should try a stronger conditioner” to horrid ones such as “maybe you should ask the chasties for more Ipecac and visit the vomitorium after your meals as you are looking fatter”.
The author was incredibly thorough with details. For example all female names were in lowercase to show their “place” in the society. There were also subliminal messages like “I am beautiful but I can be better” and “I will always be respectful” pumped through the speakers as the eves slept.
With similar issues to present times including eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia, peer pressure, bullying and self-esteem issues. The school setting is very similar to the current high school environment, but creepier and with perverse learning plans.
An extremely dark but gripping book that will stay with me for a very long time.