Tag Archives | Memoir

The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl by Belle de Jour

I must confess, after the slightly soft-focus approach in the BBC adaptation, I initially drew breath at how explicit this was.

But then, once the surprise wore off, what was I really left with? The writing’s of a reasonable standard, but it lacks narrative arc, and the lists are just plan irritating. At times, it read like someone trying very hard to be every man’s sexual fantasy; at others, I felt that Belle had forgotten to edit out the boring bits.

This book has been much-criticised for failing to portray the grittier side of prostitution, but that misses that point. This isn’t even trying to be accurate, let alone gritty. It’s a piece of escapism that aims to titillate men and to both thrill and cosy up to women.

At the same time, it talks about a version of female sexuality that’s unpalatable in the mainstream: Belle is a submissive, and in her personal life enjoys her sex with a side order of humiliation and borderline fear. Perhaps this is an attempt at exploring the psychology of Belle’s profession; I’m not sure. But it’s interesting that this has largely been ignored in mainstream commentary. I wonder if most people actually read it to the end.

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Girl with a One Track Mind by Abby Lee

I confess I didn’t quite finish this. I just got bored. Yes, she’s hot to trot: we get it. I could do with a bit more analysis though. Or something. Anything really, to break up the circular diatribe of ‘I really like sex. But sometimes I can’t get it, so I get really desperate.’

The problem is this: as an adult, I’ve had sex a few times myself. I’m going to need much more to hook my attention. Conversely, if I was seeking a masturbatory aid, there are texts that cut to to the chase much quicker. I can’t help but feel that this book somehow expects us to be surprised that women like sex in the first place.

But then, clearly I’m in the minority in finding this all a bit ho-hum. The publication of Girl with a One Track Mind led to Abby Lee (or Zoe Margolis as she’s really called) being forcibly ‘outed’, and all manner of faux-appalled pandemonium breaking out in the right-wing press. Perhaps, therefore, this book is an important step in the sexual maturation of our society. I get the sense that Lee is as surprised by the fuss as anyone else.

So, read this book if you still think that women aren’t that interested in sex. But if you’ve moved past that stage, it probably isn’t worth bothering.

P.S. There’s an interesting interview with Zoe Margolis here.

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The Sexual Life of Catherine M by Catherine Millet

What’s fascinating about this book is the flat voice in which Catherine Millet reports all her sexual adventures. Rarely does she mention her own pleasure or passion. She is, it appears, perfectly content to be a vehicle upon which men can enact their own desires.

It’s a fascinating and clearly highly authentic take on sex, written by a true adventurer. At times, I felt as though I was peering into a different type of consciousness entirely, at a woman for whom desire hinges on entirely different feelings and circumstances. Millet’s sexuality is based on accommodating the demands of others, and she recounts her adventures in the guise of the perfect submissive, unquestioning and accepting.

Taken in isolation, it’s hard to find the individual elements of the book erotic, but its power lies in a cumulative effect, the vicarious pleasure of absorbing oneself in another person’s sexual imagination.

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A Round-Heeled Woman by Jane Juska

This is an honest, funny and sometimes touching read about a woman who advertises for sex in the New York Review of Books. The unusual thing is that she’s 66.

As a reader, I cringed along with Juska as she encounters a range of men whose ‘issues’ prevent them from giving her the experience she so craves. Like her, I wanted to scream, ‘Why can’t a woman just want sex without politics!’ I also rejoiced with her when she finally found a partner whose idiocy didn’t get in the way of their mutual pleasure.

I thoroughly recommend this warm, humane account of sex between bodies past their prime.

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Just Do It by Douglas Brown

This felt a bit feeble to me. It’s an interesting premise – 100 nights of sex from an exhausted couple with children, but it didn’t dig much deeper than that.

For a start, I was irritated by their decision to define sex exclusively as penis-in-vagina action. It’s unimaginative and repetitive. But what frustrated me the most was the author’s unwillingness to really engage the reader in a frank and open discussion about his life. He idealises his wife to the point of cloyingness, and I felt a bit insulted that I was expected to believe in her.

Do you know what: I can handle the idea that imperfect people (i.e. all of us) can still love each other. Let’s stop pretending.

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365 Nights by Charla Muller

At risk of sounding like a raging sex maniac, I was at least expecting some actual sex to feature in this book. You know, as interesting as it is to hear that you’re a mom, and that you’ve got a lot of commitments, what with Church and work and the kids…but honestly, if you sell a book about a sexual project, you really do have to mention that actual shagging at some point. It’s only fair.

I read this book because in many ways it’s a similar project to mine. And in truth it reminded me of why I began the blog in the first place – I felt as though we don’t talk honestly enough about marriage. 365 Nights irritated me on both ends of the spectrum – it indulges in both eye-rolling contrasts between capable women and lazy men, and tight-lipped assertions that our relationships are unquestionably perfect.

Overall, a frustrating read.

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Cleaving by Julie Powell

This is a gut-wrenching read. While she learns the art of butchery, Julie Powell is torn between a sadomasochistic affair with semi-disinterested lover and life with her over-safe husband.

I found that I could only read one chapter at a time because I couldn’t stomach too much self-flagellation in one go. It feels as though Powell is atoning for the vaseline lens she put over her marriage in Julie & Julia. She subjects herself to such unflinching scrutiny throughout the book that it’s sometimes hard to keep reading.

I’m completely undecided about this book. On one hand, I want to applaud its raw honesty, and the way in which it uncovers the disordered, needy edge of female desire. The writing is at its sharpest when she’s discussing butchery and drawing out the muscular connections between lust and dismemberment.

On the other hand, there are parts of this book that feel a little unrestrained. Sometimes it’s repetitive, and the narrative doesn’t seem to ever move very far. I understand that this is the point, that we are watching someone who’s stuck in a set of behaviours she can’t shake, but then I also think that Powell sometimes forgets her readers in her urgent quest to unravel her psyche.

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