Only Ever Yours – a dystopian fantasy, or the world we live in?

A world where women are no longer birthed, but rather fashioned in a factory. Sent to finishing school by the age of four, spending the next twelve years learning how to please their hopeful future husbands- in every sense that word could mean. The girls not chosen as a bride, or companion, at the age of 16, are destined to become concubines (prostitutes). Woe betide the misfortunes for whom a life as a ‘chastity’, or teacher in the aforementioned school, awaits.

Frightening and Unnerving

This world comes to life on the pages of Irish author Louise O’Neill’s debut offering, Only Ever Yours. Having read the novel, it’s not hard to see frightening and unnerving comparisons between this futuristic dystopia, and the world we live in today.

If you thought your secondary school education was a nightmare, you had it much easier than the girls in this place. In the school, girls in their final year, at sixteen years of age, are given their initial standings in the “hot list”. The top ten girls, or eves, are in the running for a life as a companion- a wife to one of the Zone’s most sought after boys. frieda, the protagonist in the book, is on target to become a companion, as is her best friend isabel  (whose names aren’t capitalised, showing their lesser importance to the “fairer” sex) . Until the unthinkable happens, and isabel starts gaining weight.

As bleak as it is intense

These wives are completely subservient to their husbands, living a life of abuse- both physical and emotional. By the age of forty, the wives are considered to be past their sell-by date, and thrown into the pyre (think the incinerator scene in Toy Story 3). If “He’s yummy, he could hit me any time he wanted”, doesn’t make you wince, you are made of tougher material than I am.

Only Ever Yours chronicles obsession- with relationships, body image, food, weight, and social standing. The world here is based on men’s view of women, and it’s as bleak as it is intense. The eves are rigorously put through their paces by the chastities in their school. No one can show any kind of Unpleasant Emotion, because what man would want a wife who spends her entire life crying. They must look immaculate at all times, for fear their suitors might turn up unexpectedly for a visit and see them at their worst.

Weight must be kept in the ideal weight range, and fat girls must be made obsolete. Hair, make up and nails must be done to perfection.  Every second of their lives is uploaded to their MyFace profile from their ePad. Food that could be considered even slightly fattening is labelled, and girls who choose this option from the canteen are scorned, subject to constant abuse from their classmates. Mirrors hang from almost every surface of the school- if you’re not looking at the lives of your friends on social media, you’re bombarded with your own image wherever you turn.

Dystopia or reality?

Horrifingly, Only Ever Yours doesn’t seem as fictional as the author may have intended it to be. Throngs of teenage girls document their entire lives on their Facebook pages. Choruses of “she’s so fat, isn’t she” echo throughout school corridors and yards. We turn from bread rolls, burgers and pizzas to salads and wraps in the hopes these healthier options will keep the dreaded bulge at bay.

The girls in this book are designed to be shallow, cruel, bitchy, scathing demons when a classmate’s body image isn’t what they see as “perfect”. So what’s our excuse for doing the same?