A Life Less Monogamous by Cooper S. Beckett

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This is the text version of the book review from Episode 5 of The Pageist podcast.

[I received this book for free, but book reviewer’s honor, I’ll tell you what I really think. Listen to episode four of the podcast for my philosophy on free books and the responsibility of the reviewer.]

Jennifer and Ryan Lambert are just over thirty. They were functionally virgins when they got together in their late teens and have a solid, if boring, marriage.

Sex is not really… not really.

They’re seeing one of those therapists that listens more than he talks and who has given them the sort of mantras that would make me roll my eyeballs right out of my head. Things like, ‘Today is the day we jump.’

The therapist was realistic. I wondered if he was based on a real person.

So Ryan and Jennifer are looking for a way to get their something back. Whatever it is that happily married couples are supposed to have. And the sex. That’s important.

Off they go to a Christmas party at the house of one of their few friends—the Lamberts’ lives are constrained in all aspects—there friends’ names are Noah and Barbara.

At this party they meet Bruce and Paige Shepard. The Shepard’s are older, vital and vibrant. Just charm personified. Bruce is the kind of guy Ryan wants to be and Paige is the sort of woman Jennifer wants to be and wants to do other things to. Much to her surprise.

The younger couple spends the party cozied up to the older couple—in mixed sex pairs.

When Ryan and Jennifer inquire after them after the party, Noah and Barbara inform our couple of the tepid marriage that Paige and Bruce are swingers. This of course is a surprise, because didn’t those all go the way of shag carpeting?

But the seed has been planted. Perhaps this is what they need. And the Shepards are human magnets—intelligent, attractive, cultured. You either want to do them or be them. Or do them until you become them. We’ve all met people like this. If you’re around them enough perhaps their magnificence will rub off on you. You just need to rub against them enough.

And so the swinging adventure begins.

It’s an adventure that involves emotional highs and lows, group sex, pegging, and a pretty impressive swingers’ party.

It’s written from both Ryan and Jennifer’s point of view—alternating between them—and moves as quickly as a film. I could easily see this as a movie. An NC-17 rated movie, but a romantic comedy for married couples…who like other married couples. There’s your tag line. Bam.

I thought perhaps it moved too quickly, at first. They’re having problems. They meet Bruce and Paige and within three days they’re swingers. (I really don’t think this is a spoiler—the title is A Life Less Monogamous.) And the novel definitely demonstrates why their tactic isn’t the best one to take.

But then I thought about it and… I don’t know. It makes some kind of sense. When you’ve been looking for some change in your life and working towards that and considering how quickly your mind works when something piques your interest…And your therapist is making you say, ‘Today I change my life.’ I’m going to give it a pass.

Beckett’s ability to capture two different people’s experience of the same relationship and situation is impressive. We also see inside Bruce and Paige’s minds on occasion, though not as frequently, and their thoughts are equally believable.

Beckett addresses the always present ‘myth of equality’. Where men in the poly or swingers community are surprised to find the woman they’re with has so many more offers than they do. This book was clearly written from the point of view of a person with experience in the lifestyle. It rings very true. I’d read certain sections and think, ‘This man has been in this exact place.’ And I don’t mean wedged between some dude and that dude’s wife. He talks about jealousy well.

He doesn’t address how straight dudes deal with other dudes’ dicks, though. Everything I know about swinging comes from this book and a couple podcasts, so not a lot. I’ll be having the author on the show so get set, my friend, because I have questions. I get that women being bi is great. Everyone in the free world thinks that’s hot. But in the scenes where everyone’s in one bed… That’s a lot of appendages in one bed. So many arms and legs and … everything else.

I kept expecting some kind of thought or comment on it and that didn’t happen. Aside from one moment where an extreme activity was proposed but I had the feeling Ryan responded the way he did not because of the nearness of other dude sausage but because of the ‘I didn’t know that activity existed five minutes ago, no thank you I would not like to try that. Run, Forrest, run!’

Speaking of learning about new activities. Something I always enjoy is learning new things and I learned some terminology from this book—soft swap and full swap. Full swap is ‘Here is my spouse and all of their orifices.’ Soft swap is, ‘You may have my spouse, but you do not have access to all of their orifices. No penetration for you!’

The book is pretty funny, too. The first time Jennifer goes down on Paige this is what goes through the older woman’s mind:

Jennifer’s aim and focus may have been erratic and sloppy, but that hardly mattered when she approached her task with such enthusiasm. There were moments when she wished that she would just focus on a spot and stick with it a while, but to complain that this lovely woman was eating ‘too much’ of her pussy? Nah.

I just know this is something Beckett heard from a female friend. This must have been an actual comment from someone. I’m going to ask him when I interview him for the show.

Another part that made me laugh out loud:

‘We don’t have to decide tonight,’ Ryan smiled at her. ‘Want to see what they’re doing tomorrow?’
‘Dinner at the Watkins’.’
‘Damned vanillas.’
‘We have to see regular folk occasionally, Hon,’ said Jennifer with a laugh.
‘Yeah, I suppose,’ said Ryan. ‘But put another way, do we?’

I’m with Ryan. Once you’re used to talking about whatever you want it feels pointless reining it in. (Hi Bean! Bean is my awesome vanilla friend I can talk to about anything. I don’t mean people like you!)

Back to the review, the novel has that wish fulfillment/fantasy aspect where the main character is an average person and literally everyone else is ridiculously wealthy. I noticed it because I used to write stories like that. No fault-finding, here. Just… how do they know these people again? That sort of thing gives people maybe the wrong idea about the financial resources of the general swinger. Unless swingers are actually rich, in which case, for the first time in my life, I may have some regrets about being an asexual lesbian.

As the story progresses, we learn about each of the main characters’ background and how they got to where they current are. I like books like that because it helps you remember in real life that everyone has a story that started long before you came into the picture and no matter where they are on their journey it’s valid. (That doesn’t mean you need to stick around for it if it’s a bad place for you to be.)

Yeah, the book is funny and it’s pretty light—it really is like a rom-com where the person trying to land someone else is already married and their spouse is on-board with the dating. But there’s some depth to it, as well. This conversation near the end of the book between Bruce and Ryan, for example:

‘You know why non-monogamy is scary?’ he asked.
Ryan shook his head. ‘Where do I begin?’
‘True, it is vast.’ Bruce laughed. ‘But specifically. In monogamy we have this feeling of control, right? That somehow the social contract will keep our spouse in check. That this thin membrane will keep the external scaries out.’
Ryan looked at his hands, nodding.
‘Non-monogamy appears to take away that membrane. When we meet newbies, you know what they ask us?’
‘How soon can we fuck you?’
Bruce’s laugh came out genuine this time, and Ryan actually cracked a smile. ‘Before that. They ask “What if my spouse/partner/whatnot falls in love with someone else?”’
This appeared to strike at Ryan’s core, because he focused on Bruce’s face.
‘And I ask them “What’s stopping them from doing that right now?” The answer is invariably that they’re not allowed to. Because monogamy. Like it’s a magic wand making people’s genitals only compatible with each other.’

So it’s fun, but there’s also more going on. I enjoyed A Life Less Monogamous, definitely, and would recommend it really for anyone who enjoys novels about relationships and sex. It definitely made me want to read his first book, Life on the Swingset, which is a memoir about being, shall we say, non-traditionally sexual. It’s also the name of his website—Life on the Swingset.com.

There is one type of person I would not recommend this book to and that’s anyone who has a problem with alcohol. If you’re trying to stop drinking or having difficulty moderating you really shouldn’t read this. That may sound like a joke to some people, but the characters in this book drink a lot. They’re not alcoholics—I just think Beckett knows an ungodly amount about alcohol. People are always talking about wines and scotches and Ryan makes a Pineapple Upside Down martini on more than one occasion and I want one even though there is literally nothing in it I can have.

I don’t drink because I have an upper GI thing where alcohol turns my stomach into a Mount Vesuvius of hydrochloric acid—so I have a visceral reaction to the very thought of consuming alcohol and even I was beginning to miss drinking wine and scotch while reading this book. I found myself thinking: ‘Surely one or two glasses… Oh right, I’ll want to die, right.’

His characters didn’t seem to get drunk as frequently as I would have expected for the amount they were chucking back, though. I was legless just reading it. It reminded me of E.O. Higgins’ Conversations with Spirits—another book where everyone was drinking all the time. I believe those people were functionally drunk, though. These characters seem fine nearly all the time.

Speaking of seeming fine, last week on the website I reviewed a film by Gaspar Noe called Love that took a decidedly grimmer view of non-monogamy than A Life Less Monogamous so it was nice to see a happier take on the situation, particularly since I’m at the beginning of my own non-traditional relationship fun-times. If you like depressing films with actual sex and threesomes and such (that you can watch on Netflix!) Gaspar Noe’s Love. Don’t watch it if you’re considering opening up your relationship.

In the coming weeks the author, Cooper S. Beckett will be on the show and I am definitely looking forward to chatting with him.

Episode 005 A Life Less Monogamous

Episode the Fifth; in which The Pageist discovers monogamy is neither for the characters in the novel she reads this week nor herself! She also discovers some fun sex toys and receives her first feedback.

00.55 Intro & Announcements:

  • I mentioned the gloriousness that is Power Exchange Summit (if you’re into power exchange) and pondered what I’m going to tell people I’m doing in Ohio. Perhaps looking at the Field of Corn sculpture. I’m sure everyone would buy that.
  • I also discussed my first feedback (people actually listen to the show!!) and talk about my new connection with Amazon. I’m holding off on getting too excited about my Amazon Affiliate status juuust yet. It’s complicated.

04.25 Diary Pages:

  • I talk about how Poly Isn’t Hard but yeah it kinda also is. But the Perverted Podcast people help make it a little easier to deal with. They talk about all sorts of other kinky things on their show–check them out. I finally get over my dislike of talking about the feels and discussed it and so the marriage over here is open and stuff.
  • Also mentioned in this segment was Hole Punch Toys because they are adorable and hilarious. And they’re dildos and butt plugs called hole punch toys. How great is that? I haven’t tried them but they come highly recommended by Erika Moen of Oh Joy Sex Toy and that’s good enough for me. (My personal fav is the Mother Interior.)

12.10 Book Review:

  • This episode’s book was A Life Less Monogamous by Cooper S. Beckett. Ryan and Jennifer Lambert are in a rut. A sex-free rut. Then they meet Paige and Bruce Shepard. The Shepards are vibrant and vital. They’re also swingers. They could be just what the Lamberts need to get their spark back. Or their relationship with the Shepards could destroy everything they have.
  • It’s a rom-com for married couples into other married couples.
  • I briefly mentioned the review of Gasper Noe’s Love from the previous week, as it was also about non-monogamy, though it took a decidedly grimmer view. Still, actual sex you can watch on Netflix. Classy porn.
  • Bonus: I mentioned a vanilla book if you’re into fiction that can give you a contact high from reading about people drinking all the time. Conversations with Spirits by E.O. Higgins. It was one of the best books I read in 2015.
  • Beckett’s website is Life on the Swingset. Lots of information here about swinging and poly and sexy sex.

26.20 Sexy Section

  • An entire chapter of sexiness.

37.20 Meditations for submissives

  • This selection concerned keeping your mind on what’s important rather than allowing outside distractions to pull your focus away from what you should be doing. Here’s a link to the text.

40.15 Closing Remarks

  • Thank you for tuning in!
  • The next episode will include a review of The Slave–the second book in Laura Antoniou’s Marketplace series as well as reflections on my first full year being kinky. My kinkiversary was a good time.
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Leather Ever After

This is the text of the book review from the previous episode of The Pageist for people who prefer to read their book reviews.

This episode’s book falls under the Paige is on Top category of books, as it’s somewhat recent having been released in 2013. Look at me, reading something written within the last five years! Much modern! So wow! It’s Leather Ever After: An Anthology of Kinky Fairy Tales, which is edited by Sassafras Lowrey. It has a foreword by Laura Antoniou because of course it does—that woman is everywhere (it’s not a criticism, I just hope she’s getting enough sleep. I worry, you know?)

I read one or two before bed—as you do with fairy tales—and it’s the perfect set of bedtime stories. Lots of different kinks are covered and many were not my kinks, but they were all well-written and still hot.

Lee Harrington has a story—someone else I really hope is getting enough rest. As do other established writers of the kinky words, as well as some newcomers.

One of them–‘Down Under’ by Raven Kaldera I recognized neither the story it was based on, nor the kink—perhaps sploshing? But it was fucking HOT. There’s needle play, knife play, blood play, boot worship, branding, electricity play, and no collection of BDSM stories would be complete without spanking and bondage. And some hard fucking. Oh, the hard fucking.

The Rapunzel-based story ‘Hair Like Gold’ by Nalu Kalani was nearly one long sex scene—again, not a criticism, I was considering it for the section to read and realized I’d be reading the entire story. In it Rapunzel’s hair is her bondage. What makes her hair grow is delicious. What her savior has to do in order to release her is even more delicious.

Fairy tales covered include the Little Mermaid, Little Red Riding Hood, Goldie Locks and the Three Bears, The Frog Prince, Cinderella and the Wicked Witch makes and appearance. You know, the Wicked Witch. The one who appears in everything. There’s only one and she’s perpetually battling the Good Witch in her various guises. But in Ali Oh’s ‘The Good Witch’ the Wicked Witch—this time in the form of Baba Yaga—gets more than she bargained for, as the Good Witch tries her hand at being bad and does as pretty good job of it. Much to the Wicked Witch’s delight.

In ‘Snow Fight’ by Rob Rosen two princes show up to save Snow White but end up more interested in one another. It’s a stand out…stand up? Story. Wowwee that one was good.

‘House of Sweets’ by Miss Lola Sunshine was about that person who takes up so much space at the dungeon because their scene is just that elaborate. But little Hansel and Gretel—they needed to learn their lesson about not eating stranger’s houses. It’s an important lesson.

‘The Seven Swan Princes’ by D.L. King was a beautiful retelling of The Six Swans with masochism worthy of original fairy tales (those things weren’t fluffy and sweet, let me tell you) and some sex magic thrown in.

Fans of The Marketplace will enjoy ‘Iron Henry’ by Karen Taylor, which had a similar tone and was very sexy. It was interesting to hear about the kink experience from a black male submissive point of view, which isn’t the typical p.o.v. presented…anywhere.
‘Lady Leporine’ by Mollena Williams will please anyone who’s dealt with ‘that guy’ in their local kink community. I found myself grinning, I must admit.

The sex is gay, straight, lesbian and whatever else is required at the time. There is cross-dressing and gender-fluidity, fairies and furries, Daddies and bootblacks, bears and FemDoms, and lots of magic. Just magic out the wazoo. Some are humorous and some are more somber in tone. All the stories belong.

The only quibble I have is with the number of typos, which was more than the usual number.

I still give this a 5 of 5—for excellent bedtime reading.

Episode 001 The Marketplace

Episode the First: Wherein The Pageist begins sharing her love of books with the whole wide, English-understanding-world.

The Pageist is a podcast about books on BDSM and other forms of non-traditional sexual expression and relationships. Including fiction, non-fiction and graphic novels; from the classics to contemporary works and featuring topics from ethical non-monogamy to sex work to gender issues to kink to the science of sex. If you’re not supposed to listen to those sorts of things for legal reasons then you really shouldn’t listen to this. The Pageist is proud to be a member of the Erotic Awakening Podcast Network.

00.58 Intro:

In this episode:

  • I’ll give a brief introduction to how the show will work
  • Explain how I first discovered my kinky self in a book
  • Then review The Marketplace by Laura Antoniou
  • Read a saucy section from it
  • Share a selection from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations that is useful for submissives

1.47 Diary Pages:

  • How I landed myself a podcast a few months after hearing a podcast for the first time.
  • My love of books–everything about them–and sharing what I’m reading with anyone who’ll listen.
  • I first learned I was kinky from a book. Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis.
  • The kind of kinky I turned out to be was a pageist and I explain exactly what that is. It has nothing to do with Jimmy Page.

As part of this section I describe the four types of books I’ll be reviewing:

Paige Catches Up: Contemporary Classics Everyone’s Read: Revisit old favorites, learn about books you might have missed. Fiction or non-fiction. (Examples: The Marketplace, The Story of O, The New Topping Book, etc)

Paige is on Top (for Once): Current Releases: These can be fiction or non-fiction. To my mind, books never expire and I’ll read/review anything I feel is pertinent.

Paige Likes ’em Old: Classics: These can be kinky or sexy—the types of books that pushed boundaries and gave our ancestors the vapors. (Examples: Lady Chatterley’s Lover, anything by de Sade, Fanny Hill)

Paige Gets Graphic: Comics and Graphic Novels: Because sexy pictures are sexy. Both kinky and vanilla (Tijuana Bibles, The Lost Girls Trilogy, Sunstone).

  • I have amassed a small library of physical and digital books already, but if you’d like me to review yours you can email digital copies to thepageist[at]gmail[dot]com. Or send physical copies to:
    Paige La Marchand
    ADDRESS REDACTED
  • I can’t promise I’ll be able to review everything I receive (time is the difficulty), but all reviews will be fair.

6.37 Book Review:

I decided to review Laura Antoniou’s contemporary erotic classic The Marketplace after hearing her interview with Dan and dawn on Erotic Awakening.

The Marketplace is the first book in a series also called The Marketplace, which is about an international organization that caters to people who want to own slaves and those who wish to give up all autonomy.

This book in the series is concerned with four slaves who are at a house that specializes in training slaves for auction. The four people represent stereotypes of the kink scene.

16.55 Sexy Section:

This was a difficult decision, let me tell you. I chose a scene featuring two of my favorite people–the slave who is very, very obedient and the female Mistress/trainer.

23.20 Meditations for submissives

  • Explanation of what this segment is about
  • A little history about Marcus Aurelius, co-emperor of Rome
  • The edition I use is the Penguin Great Ideas version
  • The first selection centers on how to maintain focus on the task at hand in order to be your best self
  • This is the companion post with the text

28.12 Closing Remarks:

1601 by Mark Twain

The year is 1601 and a poor lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth is waiting on her lady, who is chatting with some of the well-known writers of the day—Ben Jonson, Francis Bacon and William Shakespeare. Other Elizabethans of note are lolling about.

Suddenly, someone cuts one.

I mean, they really let one rip.

A fart. Someone farts.

Then, Queen Bess interrogates each person in attendance about the thing, which was both quite loud and impressively noxious.

No one is admitting to it at first and she asks,

‘Hath it come to pass yt a fart shall fart itself?’

I laughed out loud.

When asked, Shakespeare says it wasn’t him, but he thought perhaps Hell supplied the smell and Heaven shook Earth in appreciation of the stench.

Just as the Queen is getting round to Sir Walter Raleigh, he admits it was indeed he, but he can do even better and proceeds then to do so.

Once this has been settled the conversation turns to sex and what people have heard about various tribes or singular people. Everyone has a little obscene story to share. There’s a discussion about the correct spelling of the plural of ‘bollocks’:

Then spake ye queene of how she met old Rabelais when she was turned of fifteen, and he did tell her of a man his father knew that had a double pair of bollocks, whereon a controversy followed as concerning the most just way to spell the word, ye contention running high betwixt ye learned Bacon and ye ingenious Jonson, until at least ye old Lady Margery, wearying of it all, saith, ‘Gentles, what mattereth it how ye shall spell the word? I warrant Ye when ye use your bollocks ye shall not think of it; and my Lady Granby, be ye content; let the spelling be, ye shall enjoy the beating of them on your buttocks just the same…’

Good ol’ Lady Margery. Reminding everyone what’s really important.

The ‘story’, as it is, doesn’t go anywhere, as it’s a diary entry of the lady-in-waiting. It’s quite short—it took less than half an hour to read. It’s written in Elizabethan English but is understandable. There’s no kink, just ribald fun.

Originally called Conversation, as it was by the Social Fireside, in the Time of the Tudors, it was published anonymously in 1880 and claimed by Twain in 1906. The history of the publication is pretty interesting.

I’ve always enjoyed finding risque and out-right pornographic pieces by people who are considered ‘classic’ writers. Part of the fun of this one is that it’s written by the person who wrote Tom Sawyer. You know. Wholesome Mark Twain! We read him at school! Ahem.

My copy was $3 and was bundled with Venus in Furs, Forbidden Fruit, Romance of Lust, My Secret Life and The Memoirs of Fanny Hill, which was worth it, in my opinion. You can also get it for free from Project Gutenberg.

4/5

Secretary: The Film vs the Short Story

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Secretary: A Comparison of the Film and Short Story

–This essay has spoilers of both the film and short story.—

Quotes from the short story are in block quotes

[Film notes are in brackets.]

*General commentary follows an asterisk

The Mary Gaitskill story was published in her collection Bad Behavior in 1988. I reviewed it here.

[The screenplay was written by Erin Cressida Wilson and the film was released in 2002. The story was adapted by Cressida and director Steven Shainberg.] I reviewed and recapped the film here.

Because this post is a long one, the rest will be after this break.

Continue reading

Bad Behavior

Bad Behavior

Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior is a collection of stories about some truly unlikable people. Really. I wouldn’t want to have lunch with one of them. Reading about them was engaging, though–Gaitskill captures the grimy, complicated reality of life, but this isn’t feel-good material. It isn’t redemptive reading, either–where someone triumphs over adversity. It’s a collection of people who live odd little lives and interact with others living odd little lives.

Now that I’ve sold you on it, I’ll tell you the good part: Several stories feature sadomasochism. It also has the story the film Secretary was based on, though the differences between the film and source material are legion. It’s one of the few times a film was better than the story, though the story fits perfectly with the others in the book. (I’ll be doing a post about the differences between Secretary the Film vs Story in a couple weeks with, just, all the spoilers if you don’t want to read the book.)

The S/M in the book isn’t the stuff of sexy fantasy, though. It’s realistic in that it’s about people who don’t communicate properly or don’t know what they want and end up in situations they don’t actually like. Particularly ‘Romantic Weekend’.

It’s similar to Something Leather in that there’s a small amount of kink in comparison to the rest of the book, except I’d still recommend reading this one, as long as you’re not looking for new best friends.

4/5

Something Leather

Something Leather

June is a by-the-book sort of woman. She’s straightforward. She knows what she wants. Not particularly satisfied in love, but also not particularly bothered enough to do anything about it, she gets on with her life in Glasgow.

Then one day a series of odd events leads her to a literal hole-in-the-wall of a shop where two women offer to make her something one-of-a-kind. In leather. June doesn’t wear leather, but something about the place speaks to her. While looking at the album of patterns she may choose from, a photo slips out—it’s come from the ‘other’ album. The one for customers with more specific tastes.

The woman who runs the shop has noticed June staring at the photo, though…She knows just what this by-the-book woman really needs.

Harry (Harriet, really) was supposed to be a boy. No one was happy she’d turned out to be a ‘gel’ as they pronounced it in their educated English accents. But she was determined to be quiet and good, as that’s what her mother wanted and what her mother paid her nurse to make her into. The nurse accomplished this by delivering pain in smacks and nips.

Harry develops rather an appreciation for pain from an early age and tries to get her classmates to dole it out at her boarding school. Some people simply don’t wish to play nice, though.

Then there is Senga—she runs the leather shop that arranges other sorts of services for certain clientèle. She’s had her own share of nonsense in life, as most people have.

And finally, poor, put upon Donalda. She, the dressmaker and general yes-woman to Senga, does what she is told.

Something Leather is thirteen chapters—the first and twelfth set up and tie up the majority of the action. The middle ten are stories about the background—the lives of the characters—of the four women in the first and twelfth chapters. The thirteenth carries on from where the climax of the twelfth leaves off.

The stories felt very different from one another, which, at first, I thought was because the characters each came from different class backgrounds and had different personalities. Then it turned out Gray had reworked several of his plays to use as short fiction. One story was from one play, another was from another, etc.

Another tidbit, which—like the above information—comes from the Epilogue, titled Critic Fuel, was that he wrote it after a conversation with Kathy Acker wherein she asked if he had thought about writing about a woman and he said no. ‘That was impossible because I could not imagine how a woman felt when she was alone.’

He goes on to describe later seeing a woman in a leather outfit just, as we would say now, working it. And he suddenly got a glimpse of how a woman would feel when she was alone.

In the epilogue Gray also says the title would have more aptly been Glaswegians, which is true. It’s much more about a plethora of humanity living in Glasgow during the 1990s and four of them engage in S/M orgy in one (very nice) chapter, with some non-consensual spanking (the spanker is the non-consenting one) in an earlier scene in the book.

Something Leather is an odd little book. If you’re only looking for the sexy/naughty bits read Chapter 12: Class Party and maybe Chapter 13: New June. The Epilogue also had some interesting insights into what Gray considered doing with some of the characters and plots at different points.

It’s more of a character study than about plot, though some weird occurrences…occur. To some weird people.

3/5

The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek

The Piano Teacher

Polish cover

The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek (translated by Joachim Neugroschel)

The piano teacher, Erika Kohut, has given her life to Art, to music, to her instrument. SHE is special and different and above everyone else who will never understand Art the way SHE does.

The piano teacher is growing older without ever having lived, but SHE is proud of this. SHE is proud of having kept herself apart. Because SHE is unlike anyone else who has ever lived. Her mother has told her so since the day SHE was born.

The piano teacher will one day be a grand piano star—only needing to devote more time to her Art and be less frivolous with money. Care less about material things or her appearance. Attracting a man will ruin everything.

But the piano teacher has a turbid inner life. The piano teacher has long repressed longings. SHE, ever the commander, yearns to be commanded. An extraordinary sort of ruler SHE would gladly obey.

Mother Kohut has made sure the most important person in her life—in the universe—her daughter knows what’s important. She keeps her most precious possession on a tight lead indeed. If she is late, Mother rings the Conservatory where the woman works. Sometimes she rings simply because she feels like it.

Mother wants to know her only child’s every step and thought and …not desire. Her child doesn’t have desires, Mother has made sure of that from a very young age. Keeping her inside practising piano and violin when the other children were running and playing outdoors, honing their bodies. But what did a one-day world famous pianist need with fresh air? She only needed her hands to work properly.

And once the child had grown into an adult they would share a bed so Mother could be sure her finest work wasn’t focusing on the flesh. Only on Art. Always on Art. And certainly not on that new student Walter Klemmer. What an impudent young man. Men were only trouble.

Walter Klemmer knows who he is and what he is about. Young—his life ahead of him, he wants experience. All sorts. He knows that he’s more intelligent than his, quite intelligent indeed, piano teacher (though she’s more than a decade his senior). And once the decision has been taken that he’s in love with her. Well, emotional love can have only one result, no?

Yes, Walter Klemmer will show this woman the way. This closed woman. He will save her from herself. He will open up the world of fleshly desires to her and then drop her, because what else would he do? He is here for experiences. He has his life before him! He is athletic and his athleticism lets him know he’s alive!

Walter Klemmer knows who he is and what he is about and when humans do not react the way he expects he becomes something else entirely.

Piano Teacher 1st edition

The 1st edition. Doesn’t let you know what you’re in for, does it? “Jelinek Die Klavierspielerin” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

The Piano Teacher was originally published in 1983 in German. It was adapted into a film in 2001. The film stays quite true to the book so there are no big surprises, plot-wise. The novel is third person omniscient, though, so we get to know the thoughts of Erika, her mother and Walter Klemmer, whereas, in the film, the viewer is with Erika. As they should be, it’s called The Piano Teacher not The Piano Teacher, Her Mother and the Deluded Misogynist.

Knowing the other characters’ motivations and thoughts puts a different light on things. And, for me, it cleared up a question I had about the end. We also see more of Erika’s upbringing, a sort of explanation of how she became the person she is and how she’s also always had certain inclinations.

I’ll be writing another post about similarities and differences later, though, as this is a review of the novel.

Jelinek’s use of language is poetic even when she’s talking about acts that are quite far from poetry. She also captures ambiguity of feeling very well.

It’s one of those books where you wouldn’t want to share oxygen with even one of the characters, but they’re interesting to read about.

I would recommend this both to people who’ve seen the film and to people who haven’t. If you haven’t seen the adaptation, read the book first (always my recommendation). It will spoil the plot, but will explain a great deal.

The Piano Teacher is a must for any sadomasochistic bookshelf. 5/5

Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure

Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure

Before beginning this review I must admit that it’s been some time since I read this. I recall enjoying it greatly and there are quite a few underlined passages in my copy. Like such:

Then the turtle-billing kisses, and the poignant painless love-bites, which they both exchang’d in a rage of delight, all conspiring towards the melting point; it soon came on, when Louisa, in the ravings of her pleasure-frensy, impotent of all restraint, cry’d out: ‘Oh Sir!–Good Sir!–pray do not spare me! ah! ah–I can no more.’ And all her accents now faltering into heart-fetch’d sighs, she clos’d her eyes in the sweet death, in the instant of which she was deliciously embalm’d by an injection, of which we could easily see the signs, in the quiet, dying, languid posture of her late so furious driver, who was stopp’d of a sudden, breathing short, panting; and for that time, giving up the spirit of pleasure.

Did I mention this is the first pornographic novel written in English? The first one. We started with this in 1748 and 49 and have devolved to… It doesn’t bear thinking about.

The plot is one of innocent young thang (IYT), orphaned at the tender age of fifteen, who makes her way to the big city of London to live with a friend. Said friend dumps her quickly and IYT shelters under the wing of kind woman who turns out to be a madam of multiple prostitutes quelle surprise!

Then again, this is the first book to use that plot device so it’s every other book that’s the cliche. Perhaps it was an actual surprise to readers at the time. Trying to image that breaks my brain a little.

IYT is introduced to the wonders of her own body by another woman in the house (lesbianism ftw) who has also discovered our heroine is a virgin. This also makes her the original virgin-to-be-debauched in a novel of this sort. You have much to answer for, Cleland. Much.

The rest of the plot doesn’t matter, does it? You’re not reading this for the plot–let’s not kid. Lots of things happen, though, in a fairly short book. And LOTS of sex happen. Some of it is even a little kinky. One of her lovers needs to be whipped and another man has a fetish for her gloves. She even meets a bisexual, my stars and garters, and witnesses anal sex between two men.

No wonder Cleland and the publisher were charged with corrupting the King’s subjects. My word.

The novel was also the subject of the first obscenity case in the U.S. (in 1821, in Massachusetts). In case you need another reason to read it.

Something I find interesting is that this book was written when people thought (‘knew’) that both sexes ejaculated upon orgasm. And not in the way that’s popular today–it was internal and all women did it every time they came. It was just accepted that’s what happened so there are descriptions of it. So if that does something for you then this one should be right up your street.

(They also believed babies were made by the mixing of the two ejaculates–the male and female. So a woman couldn’t get pregnant from being raped because she’d have to ejaculate to become pregnant and everyone knew that women never orgasmed during rape. This has been your Random Feminist Fact from History for the day.)

You can download Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure for free from Gutenberg, though I don’t know if that’s the unexpurgated edition. I paid for mine and read the Oxford World’s Classics edition with all the smutty bits. The Kindle version of that one is only .99 USD, which is worth it, in my estimation.

5/5. Know your erotica classics, kids.

D/s in The Well by Elizabeth Jolley

the-well

The Well is an Australian novel by Elizabeth Jolley, which was published in 1986. It was made into a film in 1997 starring Pamela Rabe and Miranda Otto and directed by Samantha Lang.

This essay will focus on the book, as the Dominance/submission aspects of the relationship between the two women isn’t obvious in the film. This essay also has spoilers for the book.

In the novel, Hester Harper is an older, wealthy woman who confident and forthright. She had a governess as a child and had enjoyed learning from her. Hester is a well-spoken woman who plays the piano and appreciates elegance.

The action of the novel begins when Hester brings in an orphan girl in her teens—Katherine—to do the cleaning. She is quite taken with the girl—especially with her exuberance. Merely watching her dance gives her the greatest pleasure.

She spoils the girl—buying her anything she likes. She also tries to teach Katherine to speak properly—to make her more refined.

After Hester’s father dies, she sells the farm for a hefty sum and the two women move to a remote cottage where Katherine continues to basically be a service-oriented submissive (whilst still calling Hester Miss Harper) and Hester pays for everything.

They wash one another’s hair in lavender-scented shampoo and brush one another’s hair regularly, as well. At one point they purchase matching silken nightgowns. Their lives begin to revolve around pleasure—eating the most delicious foods, shopping and generally enjoying themselves.

Katherine grows up during this time—by the end of the book she’s in her early twenties, but Hester is still making clothes for the girl that are a bit too young for her—trying to keep her a child and innocent.

Though there’s an intimation that Hester is sexually attracted to Katherine in one sentence—it’s more that she finds watching Katherine dance to be sexually fulfilling enough—there’s no sexual exchange between the two women.

The relationship isn’t one-sides. Katherine enjoys looking after Hester. If she sees Miss Harper is upset about something she’ll bring her something sweet to eat because she knows she likes sweets. She obediently hands her personal letters over for Miss Harper to read. She obediently does anything Miss Harper asks.

The D/s aspects of their relationship are never discussed, of course, not stated, but as I was reading the novel I kept thinking: Hester is trying to improve Kathy, Kathy enjoys looking after her Miss Harper, Hester pays for everything and never wants her to leave…

They just needed to sit down and have a negotiation. Just admit you want a 24/7 total power exchange. It’ll make your life easier, ladies.