An extract from Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It, plus win copies and podcast tickets
Sample the first few pages of our Book Club novel, and enter a competition to win one of 10 copies plus tickets to a podcast interview in association with the Irish Writers Centre
Louise O’Neill, award-winning author of Asking For It
My mother’s face appears in the mirror beside my own, bright red lips on powdered skin.
Her hair is still in its neat bob despite the sticky heat. She gets it done every Saturday. ‘I deserve a treat,’ she says as she leaves the house. ‘I don’t care how expensive it is.’
Karen Hennessy gets her hair blow-dried three times a week. She never mentions the cost.
I’m flushed, patches of red breaking out on my cheeks, the greying vest top I wore to bed sticking to me. I look from her face to mine.
You’re so like your mother, people always say. You’re the image of her.
‘Morning,’ she says. ‘What are you doing, just staring at yourself in the mirror?’ She frowns at my chest, at where the nipples are outlined through the sweat-stained fabric.
‘Nothing,’ I say as I wrap my arms over them. ‘What do you want?’
‘Just checking you were awake.’
I point at my desk, my open laptop, the folder full of notes, a copy of Fiche Bliain ag Fás and an Irish-English
dictionary next to it. ‘I’ve been awake since five,’ I say. ‘O’Leary is giving us an oral test today.’
Jamie will get full marks, of course. O’Leary will close his eyes as she speaks, leaning back in his chair.
He always looks surprised when he looks up again and remembers who is talking. He can never quite believe that the best Irish he has ever heard from a student is coming from someone who looks like Jamie.
‘Oh, never mind Diarmuid O’Leary.’ She half smirks. ‘Does he know you’re my daughter?’ I don’t answer.
‘I brought you your vitamin tablet,’ she says. ‘You’re supposed to have it before your morning meal.’
‘I’ll take it later.’
‘Emmie, come on. The Health Hut had to order these in especially for you.’
‘I know that, Mam.’ Her lips go a little thin, so I make myself smile at her. ‘And I really appreciate it.’
‘I’ll leave it here, shall I?’ She places the tablet and a glass of water down on my bedside locker, next to my iPhone and a collection of mismatched earrings.
She stands behind me again, placing one hand on my left hip, the other at the base of my spine, and tucks my pelvis in. ‘You need to watch your posture, pet.’ She smells of flour and cinnamon, undercut with the same floral perfume she has used for years. I can still picture her sitting at the vanity table in her dressing area, a silver silk dress spilling over her body, a slash of bright lipstick, her pale brown hair twisted into a chignon. Her hair was longer then. Dad would call up the stairs, ‘We’re going to be late, Nora,’ and she would reply ‘I’m coming, dear,’
using that special voice she used with him, with all men. (And I would wonder why she never used that voice with me.) The last thing she would do was take her perfume, unscrewing the gold top, and spray some on to her wrists. I’d sit at the top of the stairs, watching her hips move under the silk as she walked down towards Dad, waiting for her. His eyes never left hers, not even when I started to cry as they left, arms flailing as the babysitter restrained me.
Her fingers rest on my stomach. ‘Do you have your period?’ she says. ‘You look a little bloated.’
I push her hand off me. ‘You don’t need to worry, Mam. I’m not pregnant.’
I walk away from her and check my phone. Ali has texted. Again. Even though I still haven’t replied to her last two messages.
‘Please don’t speak to me like that.’
‘With that tone.’
‘There was no tone.’
Her shoulders are tense, and I know that she’s ready to go downstairs and tell Dad, tell him that I’ve been disrespectful and rude. He will sigh and tell me that he is disappointed in me. He won’t listen to me, no matter what I tell him, no matter how hard I try to explain. There are no ‘sides’, he’ll say. Please treat your mother with more respect.
There is only one side in this and it’s never mine.
She pauses. ‘Take that vitamin,’ she says, ‘and then come downstairs to join Daddy and me for breakfast. He wants to see you before he goes to work.’ She turns at the door to look at me, her gaze working up my body, lingering on my face. And I know exactly what she is going to say to me.
‘You look beautiful this morning, Emmie. As always.’
The door closes behind her and the air in my room turns to soup. I wade through it, pushing up my sash window in search of relief, and I can taste the tang of sea salt on the breeze. There are six other houses curving around the bay like a wishbone, all painted in the same canary yellow with black window frames and doors; sensible, boxy cars lining the glistening tarmac drives, Toyotas and Volvos and Hondas in black or silver, as if any other colour would attract too much attention. Nina Kelleher from two doors down is herding her daughters, Lily and Ava, into the back of a station wagon, a slice of toast between gritted teeth as she slams the door behind Lily, waving at Helen O’Shea who is on bended knees in the next driveway, retying her son’s shoelaces. ‘God, the state of the place,’ Jamie had said last year when we drove past a council housing estate on the outskirts of Ballinatoom, the neat houses crammed together, carefully tended flower baskets on the windowsills, gangs of snotnosed children playing red rover in the small patch of green in the centre of the houses. Maggie had just gotten her driving licence then, and the four of us had piled into her parents’ Volvo, giddy with the sense of freedom, that we could go anywhere or do anything we wanted, although we never went much further than Kilgavan. We drove around Ballinatoom, through the roundabout, up Main Street, past the church, left at the garage at the edge of town, past the playground, down the bypass, and then we were at the roundabout again. We went around and around and then around again, eating penny sweets and watching out for boys we knew in other cars, Maggie insisting we turn down the music as we passed O’Brien’s funeral home, a thin line of people queuing up outside to pay their respects. ‘It’s just so yellow,’ Jamie said, turning to look out the back window as we drove past the estate. ‘Is there some sort of rule that says every housing estate built in this country has to be painted in bright yellow?’ Out of the corner of my eye I could see Ali, sitting next to her in the back, elbowing her, jerking her head at me.
‘Here,’ I said, turning around and handing Jamie the iPod. ‘Choose something else to put on, I’m sick of this playlist.’ And I could hear Ali breathing a sigh of relief that there hadn’t been any fighting, not this time.
Jamie wouldn’t say that now. She would be happy to live in our estate now.
Asking For It by Louise O’Neill is published by Quercus.
If you have a question for the author, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Over the next four weeks, we will be publishing a series of interviews and features exploring the book, culminating in a public interview with Louise O’Neill in association with the Irish Writers Centre, Parnell Square, Dublin, on Thursday, October 8th, at 7.30 pm, which will be recorded for a podcast on irishtimes.com the following week. Tickets€5/€3, and €7 on the door.
We have 10 copies of Asking For It and 10 tickets to the Irish Writers Centre event to give away. To enter, email your answer to the following question to email@example.com by Friday, September 25th. The first 10 correct entries win. What is the name of Louise O’Neill’s award-winning debut novel?