I remember reading this book when it first came out which was in 2003 and I would have been in the early years of high school. It was the first deeply pornographic book I’d ever read, and reading it again as an adult meant this time I could pay attention to the plot and pick up on the other important themes Gemmell was addressing, besides just giggling at the sex scenes.
When it was first published, it made the rounds in all the literary columns in the newspapers because it was being hyped up as a controversial sex novel and when you’re a teenager, you really require no further encouragement. To add to the salaciousness, it was published anonymously. I even remember the scandal it caused back then because the public legitimately believed an actual mother had found her daughter’s secret sex diary/novel and had had it published. And of course, the public was subsequently outraged when it was discovered the fiction was, at the end of the day, a fiction.
(Off on a tangent, but I guess this goes back to what we had discussed about publishing under a pseudonym. People should be free to publish under any name, and are more likely to do so if the topic is controversial, but if you start to claim authenticity in an area you have no experience in (for example, if the book had been preachy and conservative about a woman’s sexual desires and then the public discovered it was written by a man), then it does become a problem. In this case, I don’t think it was being marketed as a real memoir (correct me if I’m wrong), it’s just publishing it anonymously added to the artistic feeling of ‘it could be any woman’, and people had unfortunately believed it to be real and felt cheated once it was proven otherwise).
The entire book is written in the second point of view, making the reader feel as if they were the protagonist and it made the whole story more intimate which is the whole intention. And that’s really the whole point of the novel, to make it as intimate and sensual (notice I said sensual, not sexual) as possible. Besides appealing to our base desires, Gemmell also achieves that feeling of intimacy by addressing uncomfortably honest thoughts that flitter through our mind at some point in a relationship.
Not just the physical aspect of it:
You’re not sure if Cole does it properly, you don’t know what properly is. Theo would, for she is a sex therapist with a discreet Knightsbridge office and a Sunday magazine column. You suspect she finds you both innocent and ridiculous and sweet. Cole and you have never done any of that making love twice in a row or knocking over lamps or pulling each other’s hair. When you do make love you could describe each other as tidy.
But the nagging feeling the person you marry is not on the same wavelength as you:
He sequesters himself by habit. At work, until late, or in front of the television, or in the bathroom. He can stay on the toilet for three-quarters of an hour or more, if you sit next to him on the couch he’ll make his way to the armchair without even realizing what he’s doing, if you put your hand on his groin in bed he’ll shrug it away. He sleeps with the curve of his back to you more often than not.
And I think this is what gives this novel its depth and doesn’t reduce it to some Mills & Boon knock-off.
As honest as some of the confessions were though, especially about women’s desires, married life, and sex, the whole plot was still an erotic fantasy; a housewife meets a Spanish struggling actor who’s as sexy as he is virginal so she decides to complete his worldly education whilst taking control of her own sexual desires. So even though some of the ideas about sex and relationships were quite candid, the themes were carried by an unrealistic plot line.
And I can’t finish off this review without addressing the real reason why people read this. For the record, I think the sex was written honestly, the good and the bad. To be honest, I wanted more sex and more details. If a book is going to have a reputation for spelling out what women really want, then it was a bit tamer than I thought, although given how everyone is openly discussing BDSM (thank you, Fifty Shades) and pegging (thank you, Deadpool) maybe I’m just a bit numb. But writing sex scenes that would please everyone is a pretty tall order so I’ll give this a pass.
I liked it. It’s essentially a well written book, and any book that gives a rounded (although implausible) plot on women taking control of their desires is giant plus for me, and ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’ does that. The problem with hyping it up as a sex novel is it doesn’t have enough sex in it to be satisfying but writing it off as a glorified chick lit with porn (like that’s a bad thing) doesn’t acknowledge the depth of the story.
On Another Note
I like this version of the book I bought. It has a beautiful lilac and cream lace print on the cover which is quite fitting but most importantly it’s printed by Angus & Robertson and has their stamp on it in the top left hand corner. For the non-Australians in the room, Angus & Robertson was quite a prominent bookstore until it went bust (we only have Dymocks left) so this particular copy won’t be in print anymore, and that appeals to the collector in me. Angus & Robertson had also seen fit to classify it as a modern Australian classic so hurray to reading more Australian fiction!