While the title of Caitlin Moran’s novel (How to Be a Girl) is figurative, if applied to Irish author Louise O’Neill’s debut it would be quite literal. Only Ever Yours is set in a future Earth where overpopulation has been controlled by weeding out the female sex. Instead, women are constructed in laboratories by men, for the sole purpose of fulfilling one of three roles – companion, concubine or chastity. Girls, or “eves” as they’re known, grow up in institutions run by chastities; nun-like authority figures who teach them various skills they’ll need for life once they turn 17. When that great date arrives – the same for each new batch – The Ceremony occurs where each girl will be sorted into the role they will fulfill for life. The most coveted but with the least available positions is companion. Basically a wife, a companion will serve the needs of her husband, give birth to as many boys as possible and be ‘terminated’ at the age of 40. Anyone who doesn’t become a companion will settle into a harem as a concubine. A few not suited to either of those lives will become chastities, staying in the institution to grow old and die, forgotten and dismissed by the ruling class.
freida is among the latest class to enter the year preceding The Ceremony. Each eve has been modeled to specific specifications; there are angelinas, rosies, kates and mirandas – all spelled lowercase to signify their inferior place in this ultra patriarchal society. Her best friend is the number 1 eve, isabel, and has been since they began at the school when they were 4, but isabel has been growing more distant, closed off, strange, over the holiday period before starting their crucial final year and frieda has no idea why. But she has been bred, like all the others, to be at first utterly self obsessed and then devoted to her husband, and there isn’t much time to fret over her friend when there’s preparation to be done.
As far as dystopian societies go, this has to be one of the grimmest ever conceived. While the girls are all as beautiful as anyone could ever manage to be – it’s fun guessing who each one is based on, it took me a while to click that frieda is a clone of Indian actress and model Frieda Pinto and that her some time friend/most of the time nemesis is supposed to be the spitting image of Megan Fox. That’s about the most fun to be garnered from this read, however, as each beauty is obsessed with how they look, being shamed if they gain a pound or two, in competition with each other to rank in the highest order since being barely out of nappies. Their education is confined to calorie counting and make-up application, none can read and absolutely none are encouraged to have individual thought. They revere the Father, who stands as both the head of their section of world society, the Euro-Zone and a quasi-religious figure. It’s a depressing and eye-opening theme for a Young Adult novel, but one which will resonate with many young girls today who are pressurised to look and act a certain way. O’Neill has produced a very impressive first novel; well constructed, well paced and containing surprisingly well rounded characters, considering their origins. A new name to watch on the literary scene, and a novel which, like the eves, has much more depth than at first perceived.
– Aoife B. Burke
First Published in The Tuam Herald on 13.08.14