Only Ever Yours

Only Ever Yours was written by Louise O’Neill and first published in 2014. It is a dark dystopian science fiction story which is set in a world were women are genetically engineered to please men. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.

freida is an eve who has just entered her sixteenth year. That means that it is finally time for her to graduate and be accepted into one of the three areas of society appropriate for females. frieda has always dreamed of being chosen as a companion – one who will become a wife and bear as many sons as she can to the husband who chooses her. The alternatives are to become either a concubine (one who will please any man who so desires her services) or a chastity (those who are undesirable to all and therefore teach the next generation of eves).

The problem is, freida’s ranking has been slipping. As she struggles with a sleeping disorder, her weight increases above the window that is deemed acceptable and, for the first time in years, she finds that she is not one of the top ten. This is a huge problem for her, as only the most attractive and obedient girls will be lucky enough to become a companion.

While freida works to improve her image and become attractive again, he notices that her friend isabel’s standards are slipping. While she was previously top ranked, isabel’s huge weight gain has completely knocked her off the leader-board. freida desperately wants her friend to see the error of her ways but can she really risk her own image by associating with someone so hideous? With the graduation ceremony only months away, any mistake could cost freida her future…

Before I begin, a word of warning. It is hard to stress how deeply unpleasant this novel is. Only Ever Yours is clearly intended for older teens only as it contains subject matter that is really quite disturbing. While this story is never overly graphic, it does contain depiction and/or reference to violence against women, rape, eating disorders, suicide, fat and skinny shaming, slut shaming, drug abuse and homophobia. If you are sensitive to any of these themes, I would strongly suggest giving this one a miss.

Only Ever Yours is a really difficult novel to review as I think it’s pretty clear that it is not going to appeal to everyone. It’s not one of those books that you can pick up and lose yourself in and is certainly not a story that I could ever read for pleasure. The setting carries the feel of a combination between Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale and The Stepford Wives, creating a world where only men are born naturally and so women are genetically manufactured for their pleasure. And that is just as unpleasant as it sounds.

Women in Only Ever Yours have no rights and must do as they are told at all times, even if it causes them to suffer. Failure to do so results in death without question. Yet the novel goes a step worse by showing the “school” where the eves live before they enter the real world. This is a place where all of their physical aspects are broken down to numbers, so that men can choose their ideal traits from a catalogue. It’s a world were women are raised to believe they are unappealing to men if they are outside of a target weight of between 115 and 118 pounds. It is a world where women are assigned a termination date to ensure that their beauty never starts to fade. The fact that women are even denied names that begin with a capital letter only serves to further underline that they are nothing more than objects.

Naturally, this means that the novel was just a cavalcade of human misery but it did give me some food for thought. While some dystopian plot lines seem utterly beyond the realms of possibility, Only Ever Yours seemed to contain a small kernel of truth. Women in the United Kingdom have been horribly oppressed in days gone by and there are some areas of the world where they still are. Who is to say that the future could not snap back to this, if there was some disaster that meant that women could not be born naturally?

However, there is no meat behind these terrifying concepts. The novel was highly repetitive, following a group of sixteen-year-old girls over the space of ten months as they binge, purge and back-stab each other. Their end goal is to be in the elite group who manage to impress ten “Inheritants” and thus be chosen to become their brides. Yet, the novel does not really have any structure or ongoing plot beyond this. Almost every character in the novel has been completely brainwashed by the system and so totally accepts the status quo. There isn’t any sense of rebellion or any kind of hope. It serves as a mere window into an unpleasant future earth where women have no rights or hope of salvation.

Because of this, Only Ever Yours really did start to drag in places. There are only so many descriptions of vapid realty television shows and vomitariums that one can take. Even the end of the story was a bit underwhelming. After waiting an entire novel to witness the “Ceremony”, the novel abruptly wraps itself up with a very bleak ending. While I appreciate that this is entirely the point, underlining the objectification of the protagonists, I was still left feeling disappointed.

My biggest issue with Only Ever Yours was that I had a hard time connecting with any of the protagonists. As the story is entirely told from frieda’s perspective, we don’t really get time to get to know the other girls. Frieda is entirely self-centred and will do anything for popularity, even if it means being cruel to other eves. As she has been totally brainwashed by the system, she spends a lot of time talking about how disgusting the other girls are, taking a special glee in talking about the ones who have gained weight. This left a particularly bad taste in my mouth.

From what we learn of the other girls, they aren’t much better. The current top ranked girl – megan – is particularly unpleasant and it was frustrating to see frieda bending over backwards for her approval. The male characters are a stage worse again, painted as having been groomed from a young age to believe that all women exist for their enjoyment. This negative portrayal of men did give me a little pause, as it felt incredibly dated. Feminism moved on from this treatment of men a long time ago. Portraying all men as being evil is just as problematic as any other kind of stereotyping.

The only character who really stood out was isabel. While the reason behind isabel’s destructive behaviour isn’t revealed until the final few pages, it’s clear from early on that she is painfully aware of the inequality of the system. However, as soon as she starts to gain weight, frieda makes quite clear that she no longer wants to associate with her and so isabel fades from the plot. This was a crying shame, as it meant that long stretches of the story went by without a trace of the one sympathetic character.

I think that I’ve made my point. All in all, Only Ever Yours did provide some interesting talking points but probably isn’t a novel that I would recommend. Despite its heavy subject matter, it’s not as complex as I would have liked and seemed to take a rather old-fashioned view on what it meant to be a feminist. While I am glad to have read it, I don’t think that I would ever want to do so again.

Only Ever Yours can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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