I recently had a brief departure from my usual crime fiction reading and on a whim downloaded Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill. Suffice it to say this book made me pretty mad (not the writing I hasten to add, this was a very good book) but I wouldn’t call this a book review, more a rant.
For those who haven’t heard of it Only Ever Yours is essentially a scarier take on the Stepford Wives concept. The main character is Frieda and we see the world through her eyes. A world where women are created purely to compete with each other in order to make themselves the best choice when it comes time for the men to pick their wives. Whilst this is obviously a piece of fiction that is written for Young Adults to show them the bleakness of an existence like the girls in the book, it is worrying just how close this could be to real life.
The only goal in life for Frieda and her friends is to be the perfect women – to be skinny, be fertile and always agree with a man. Well that’s me being thrown on the pyre then, I eat too much pizza, I had a hysterectomy at 37 and the only time I’ve ever been known to be agreeable is if the question is Do you want another glass of wine? In fact I read this book whilst having a glass of wine and a meal on my own in my favourite Manchester pizza place.
Obviously the portrayal in the book is an exaggerated version of life, but the scary thing is I don’t think society is really that far removed from this. Everywhere you look on the tv or magazines the world is being told to diet or obsessing on some celebrity baby. Even at our age if you go out with a group of women the topics of conversation will inevitably include children, dieting and partners (always in a favourable way of course)
Throughout the book the women see themselves as property; they have no ambitions other than to be a companion to the men. For those who already know their rankings aren’t high enough to be chosen as a companion they aspire to be concubines. What kind of a world is it where women want to be less than they really are? We should encourage women to be strong not skinny, passionate not docile, to learn and have interests, to be proud to be a whole person in their own right not waste their lives in the hope of becoming someone’s ‘other half’ (A phrase I really hate – I’m a whole person just as Mr F is a whole person we go halves on our rent not on our personality)
It made me really sad this book had to be written but fingers crossed it has some good outcomes. Only Ever Yours should be a standard must read for all young people. Hopefully then more people will get mad and start realising that there is more to life than trying to shrink themselves – there’s pizza and wine for a start.