Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill (audio book review).

May 30, 2016 | By | Reply More

Ever wondered what would happen if you took all the most anti-feminist ideas men ever dreamed up and made them in to the rules of a society? Well, Louise O’Neill is here with her debut YA novel ‘Only Ever Yours’ to tell you what this could look like. She even goes as far as lowercasing all the names of females and names of groups of females, while capitalising the male names and groups, just to show how anti-feminist the world is.


Baby girls are no longer born naturally, but are produced genetically. They are raised in underground schools, where they are trained in becoming beautiful and pleasing men until, at the end of their sixteenth year, they will be selected for one of three futures. The highest ranking girls, will be selected to be companions, who will live with their husbands producing sons until they are disposed of when they are no longer useful. Most other girls will become concubines, whose role is to provide men with physical pleasure. Occasionally, if a girl is not beautiful enough to be pleasurable to men, she becomes a chastity and must remain in the school to look after future girls.

We follow freida through her final year at the school, struggling to be beautiful and to become a companion and her relationship with her best friend, isabell, which starts to fall apart as the latter starts to become fat. freida can’t see why her friend is eating so much food. Furthermore, the girls meet the Inheritents, the boys to whom some of them will be companions and must fight to impress them. Will freida rescue her friendship with isabell? Will she be able to become a companion?

The story is set in a futuristic Europe, which is tiny due to rising sea level and global warming having wrecked most of the world. The trees, grass and sky in the school’s ‘outside’ area are all synthetic.

The girls spend their school lives constantly looking at themselves in mirrors, preparing for school rankings. Their curriculum at school covers subjects such as: how to please men, controlling unacceptable emotions which, in practice, means learning not to have any emotions at all, gym, dieting and comparison studies where two girls would have to stand before the class and the details of their bodies are scrutinised and compared.

On top of this, the girls are kept on various types of medication and are obsessively worrying about calories after every meal. As much as the aim of their lives is to stay thin and beautiful, the girls do have a free choice of meals, with unhealthy food to tempt them. It is quite unsettling, reading about girls purposefully not eating properly just to lose a bit more weight or being horrified by how many calories something as every day as a bread roll would contain.

Additionally, they must spend their out-of-school hours in glass cubicles which, at night, are really hot. If they can’t sleep, there are night time messages which say things like ‘I am a good girl’. Among school mottoes there is: ‘There is always room for improvement’ which is used in regard to becoming more beautiful.

Sounds like the sort of school you would want to go to? School life is portrayed so captivatingly, that I felt trapped within the net of final year as freida battles for her future. It is compelling but, simultaneously, very grim. There are plenty of scenes that made me feel sick.

Naturally, this world shoots up a bunch of stick-thin, beautiful girls who, though they may look pretty, have low self-worth and, though they may look beautiful together, are constantly jealous of one another, gossiping and saying horrible things about each other. None of them are likeable but then they are not meant to be, it is merely pity for freida that kept me engaged. The only character I can honestly say I consistently liked, for most of the story, was a chastity called chastity magdalena, because she tried to be nice to the girls, whereas most of the other chastities were quite horrible women.

isabell was quite an interesting character. It was intriguing to see her grow apart from freida as she kept secrets and became fat. There is quite a bit of mystery surrounding isabell. Louise O’Neill doe a fabulous job of keeping the reader in suspense about various secrets of the school and the world at large. In fact, it certainly doesn’t end how anyone would expect it to.

This may sound pretty bleak, most likely because it is, but it is a story that needs to be told. I think it’s certainly a very brave writing decision, one I’m pleased to say delivers its intended effects.

It is a story that watches a young girl fall apart in a world obsessed with looks. It is heart-wrenching yet it is enlightening as it asks the question to women, is this really what you want? Because this story may be about a society controlled by men, but women today are obsessing over looks, are doing stuff solely to please men and there are people who are underweight in the name of beauty. This story is a testament to what that sort of lifestyle can do to a person.

As well as beauty, the story covers other modern issues such as rape and domestic violence. Maybe it could have done with being a little less intense sometimes. I don’t really know how that would have worked in practice, because it wouldn’t have been very true to the world. This is by no means a light read, rather it will have you think about its contents long after you put it down.

This is not one of those dystopias, where the main character somehow manages to fight back and change the world. I won’t tell you what freida does do in the story because that would spoil it, but what I would say is that freida does not change the world or even attempt to.

The narrator, Emma Weaver, of the audio version lets the story down by a very poor performance which was very screechy and while it is true the girls would have been like that to a certain extent, it was overdone to the extent that it was highly irritating. Therefore, while I do highly recommend reading this book, I would not recommend listening to the audio version.

There may have been times while reading this that it was so unpleasant I felt sick but it is honestly worth it for the beautiful message it portrays. It is a book I am proud to have read, reviewed and highly recommend. My only regret is that there are not more books like this. So, I would definitely advise you to read this book and hope you find it thought-provoking.

Rebecca Thorne

May 2016

(pub: Quercus, 2015 Audio book: length 9 hours 30 minutes. Price: prices range between £13.99 and £17.99 though this can be obtained cheaper or even for free from Audible or from a library. ISBN: 978-1-78429-400-7)

narrator: Emma Weaver

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Category: Music/Audio, Scifi

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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