Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

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My obsession with The Stepford Wives often leads me to some pretty dark, dystopian stories, and this book is as dark as they come. I saw someone I follow on Instagram reading it  and I liked the look of the cover. So I sought out some reviews and decided it was right up my street.

Only Ever yours is a young adult book, which I often read because I find the subject matter of YA books really hook me. And they can be read relatively quickly if I’m looking for something to read on the train. This book may be a fast read, but the subject matter is by no means easy.

Only Ever Yours takes place in a future where girls are no longer born naturally due to their flaws. Females are manufactured, and to the specifications of the men who they will serve. Eves, as the young girls are known, live separately to the rest of society and are schooled in how to attract and please men, right up until they are 16 when they are chosen to have one of three fates: Concubine, Companions or Chastities. To become a Companion is the biggest prize, chosen by one of the young men who come to ‘audition’ them to be the perfect model of wife and mother to as many male heirs as she can produce. A Concubine is a prostitute who will work in one of the many brothels in the city. To be a Chastity is the worst prospect, she will stay at the school and teach younger Eves for the rest of her life, never to be allowed to leave.

We see life through the eyes of Frieda, who, along with her best friend Isabel, is a high ranking Eve. But when Isabel commits the worst possible sin, putting on weight, Frieda has to decide whether to protect her friend and stay loyal, or to focus all her efforts on her path to becoming a Companion. Things start well for Frieda, but soon her life goes horribly downhill, spiralling out of control. Then she faces the worst fate imaginable.

I read this book in a bit of a frenzy, hoping desperately that with each page things would get better for Frieda. It’s a long time since a book has made me feel so angry and despairing. Author Louise O’Neill uses clever devices like the lack of capitalising the girls names and using punctuation to underline the inconsequence of the female characters which make you feel utterly immersed in the girls’ plight.

Brilliant and devastating all at once. A quick read but by no means an easy or unchallenging one. I highly recommend.

 

 

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In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

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I am a sucker for a book that looks as if it might be perfect to cosy up with under a blanket by the fire to read. And if it promises a thrilling mystery tinged with a large does of fear, then all the better. So when I saw the cover of In a Dark, Dark Wood I absolutely had to read it.

Six people gather in a large, modern house in the middle of the woods for an old friend’s hen weekend.  Novelist Nora, the main protagonist, hasn’t seen bride-to-be Clare for years, and it seems there is some long-held animosity between them. Clare’s friend Flo appears to be totally obsessed with her, and slightly unhinged. There is much forced-fun and drinking, and plenty of tense moments between the six invitees.

As the narrative raced along, I got sucked into the plot, with a keen-ness to discover the secret between Nora and Clare. Then the story started to divide between the telling of events in the house, and from Nora’s hospital bed where she has obviously sustained injury but struggles to remember what happened.

In the Dark, Dark Wood has all the makings of a classic, closed-house murder mystery: the house remote and shut off from the outside world, and the characters with their hidden secrets. The relationships in the house slowly unravelling, and the unreliable narrator, Nora, with her injuries causing amnesia. Everyone is under suspicion at one point or another.

My two negatives are: I found Nora intensely irritating, with her inability to ask questions or realise what was going on. I didn’t ever understand her motivation for going along to the hen weekend of someone she hadn’t spoken to for ten years.  I also felt that it lacked proper creepiness. The ingredients were there, the large glass-walled house which looks out onto the dark, snow-lit wood, an opportunity for voyeurism at it’s best, but it just fell a little short.

I would recommend this as a quick, easy read for holidays. It has one heck of a pace and engages you immediately.