Feminist literature unwrapped

A sit down with Irish author Louise O’Neill

Louise O’Neill, a critically acclaimed Irish writer hailing from Cork, visited the GMB last night courtesy of FemSoc and LitSoc. The author of “Asking For It” and “Only Ever Yours” was a humble and gracious guest who made it clear at the beginning of the night that she was very appreciative of the crowd that had gathered to hear her speak. It was obvious that the audience was eager to start as excited conversation came to a sudden hush as O’Neill and the two hosts took their seats at the front of the room.

As formalities were made to welcome everyone to the event and there was an announcement about O’Neill’s newest novel “Almost Love”, to be released in March, a warning was issued to the room that the content of the interview with O’Neill would touch on sensitive subjects. However, the beginning was light, the first question being which Princess would the writer choose to take with her to a desert island. O’Neill responded with the disney princess Ariel. This lead to a discussion on how the author spent a lot of her childhood on the beach, and her obsession with mermaids and fairy tales. This creative imagination lead to a successful career in fiction and women’s literature. The open dialogue about her eating disorder also personalised the issues O’Neill addressed throughout the night. It was evident from the beginning that this was to be an evening full of intimate and honest conversation.

O’Neill was frank in all her responses and her genuine interest in feminist issues was transparent. This is no surprise considering both her novels have been huge successes in contributing to the discourse on rape culture and women’s rights, especially among young women in Irish society. In particular, “Asking for It” appears to be more relevant than ever in light of the recent “Time’s Up” movement and the Hollywood confessions. The author herself even acknowledged the court case going on in Ulster at the moment which has striking comparisons to the story written in her novel, believing this to be a “time of retribution surrounding sexual violence.”Interestingly, O’Neill was inspired by a case which was brought to court in the United States in 2012, and thus began her writing in 2014. She also listed some of the authors who influenced her as a writer, more so than her writing. These included Margaret Atwood, Marianne Keys, and David Mitchell.

O’Neill’s treatment of sensitive material in her work provided a detailed and varied discussion, covering topics such as body image and beauty standards, sexual violence, and the role of women in society. This came to head when the floor was opened to the audience for questions. One such question posed to O’Neill, queried how the author had used her position as a successful white woman in a positive manner. O’Neill spoke a lot about the need to support more writers of colour, in particular women of colour and their work, instead of trying to write stories that were not her own. Her response was essentially that one should step aside and make way for these artists and their work.

O’Neill was firm when explaining how she managed to convey the trappings and claustrophobia felt in both her previous novels. It was the diaries she had written all throughout her teens that reminded her of the realities of a young woman’s development and how frustrating life can be. She found the viciousness and insecurity that is common among young girls in their relationships with each other and managed to translate this into a hard-hitting piece on sexual violence and perceptions of the female population.

The talk ended on a high note, as each person left the room with a sense of empowerment and solidarity in the common struggle for respect and equality for women. The presence of Louise O’Neill created an atmosphere of openness which lent a space to embrace the continued conversation of rape culture and the need for change in the attitudes towards women today.