The fuss around 50 Shades of Grey has left me decidedly nonplussed. Apparently women are writing and reading erotic stories all of a sudden—NO WAY! Why hasn’t this happened before…oh wait, what’s that you say, women have been writing and reading erotica since the invention of the printing press? Ah. Nothing to see here then, move along please, move along.
Despite everyone rolling their eyes and saying, ‘duh’, there will no doubt be a continual bevvy of mainstream media stories this year on the ‘phenomenon’ that people actually enjoy reading about a little rough and tumble, a bit of slap and tickle, a smidgen of tea and crumpet…oh, you get the idea, vicar.
As someone who always preferred Anaïs Nin’s Delta of Venus to Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, I am left wondering what all the fuss is about. Even in Australian terms, Krissy Kneen has been titillating like the best of them for a few years now, with her books Affection and Triptych which are so smolderingly clever and sexy they make E.L. James look like an amateur. What’s that? She is? She wrote Twilight fan fiction under the pseudonym Snowqueens Icedragon? This is a joke, right?
Anyhoo, what I’m saying is that this is nothing new, and that there are lots of great Australian writers producing novels that are not only better written than 50 Shades but that are also infinitely more erotic. Kneen has produced some daring stuff in recent years (I was going to write that she’s been ‘working the vein’, but decided against it—look, I’m trying here) and I’ve just read two new novels that are just as likely to satiate literary desires.
Nicki Reed’s debut novel Unzipped comes out in July and should be met with a certain amount of fanfare. Not only is it a thoroughly modern Melbourne tale (characters have—gasp—Facebook accounts and argue about cyclists) but it is also a touching love story that is not afraid to get down and dirty. Protagonist Peta Wheeler undergoes a radical transformation in her buttoned down, predictable life when she has sex with a younger woman on her couch. It’s knickers to the wind after that as Reed cleverly documents the breakdown of Peta’s marriage to her preoccupied husband Mark and the establishment of a coup de foudre relationship with bicycle courier BJ. The fact she’s bleeding out of a relationship with a man and embracing one with a woman is in many ways incidental. Great love, and great sex transcend gender. Unzipped is a story about both.
Another book getting some attention at the moment is Susan Johnson’s seventh novel, My Hundred Lovers. Despite her undoubted influence on early 21st Century Australian fiction, incredibly Johnson has yet to win any of the multitude of awards that get thrown about, wryly describing herself in the Sydney Morning Herald recently as, “the bridesmaid of Oz lit.”
Although it’s a little early to be calling next year’s awards shortlists, I’ll be surprised if this deplorable situation is not remedied in 2013. My Hundred Lovers is a remarkable achievement, a genuine masterpiece of sensuality that took Johnson more than a decade to get her head around. The first thing to understand is Johnson’s shrewd interpretation of the word ‘lovers’. This is not the story of a woman looking back on her life bonking a hundred people—the lovers here take many forms, including sunshine, her fingers, a certain type of croissant, a cat, a bridge. There are people here too, of course, men and women, and sex is not always a prerequisite for them to be considered lovers.
Over the course of these hundred tiny chapters a picture of protagonist Deborah’s rich life becomes apparent. Time passes, her life ebbs and flows and we finish with a complete knowledge of a stranger. It’s an absorbing and very personal experience, like reading someone’s beautifully poetic and honest diary. This style of faux memoir has been done before in fiction, notably by Casanova in Histoire de ma vie, or by Erica Jong in Fear of Flying, but not for a while. There’s not as much BDSM as there is in Anne Desclos’s Story of O but Deborah is still a wild thing and it’s easy to fall in love with her a little. The French influence on Johnson is clear—parts of the story are set in a version of Paris that’s as close as I’ve seen to the city being faithfully captured on the page for a long time. You won’t find a better French book written by an Australian, and as far as erotic writing goes, forget the shades of grey and look a little closer to home. Australians have this genre well and truly licked.
24 Aug 12 at 1:59
Love your take on this subject. Won’t be reading FSoG cuz I hate Twilight but I think this puts the whole “phenomena” (if you want to call it that) in perspective.
25 Sep 12 at 21:37
I agree, agree, agree! You have basically taken the words out of my mouth. The fact that this is not a new phenomenon but yet everyone tries to tell us that it is is annoying. Even more annoying to me is the suggestion that, if you are into S&M then consequently something must be a bit wrong with you, such as having had a ‘difficult childhood’ Argh! Oh, and: virgin who comes after 3 seconds anyone? Sure as!
28 Aug 13 at 22:59
fifty shades of grey movie I am awaiting for the releasing of Fifty shades Movie.and i watch Ian Somerhalder’s work it is pretty awesome to see on the screen
23 Jan 14 at 12:07
thanks for the comment, i did recognise a similarity in style in Casanovas book aswell, maybe the author of this 50 Shades was a bit inspired on his book.