Rating: 2.5 stars.
Short read: This is the story of a 1920s sexual tryst told through the highly explicit, if not slightly tedious, letters of an obsessive French mistress. Read this book for the editor’s great historical commentary and analysis, but skim through much of the repetitive erotica.
I wish I could let this book speak for itself, but so many of the best quotes are inappropriate for me to have on this blog. This is the most… inspired erotic novel I’ve ever read. I listed this book as one of my most anticipated for 2016 after seeing the summary and the scarlet letter on the cover, assuming I’d be taken by what promised to be a lascivious novel. I clearly underestimated the protagonist’s dedication to writing reckless and unadulterated (pun unintended) smut to impress her man.
If you squint past the detailed (to say the least) descriptions of threesomes and penetration, there’s a vastly underdeveloped story:
The story of a mistress (Simone) desperately infatuated with her suitor (Charles)– more subtly, it is also the story of an adulterer managing his inclination toward sexual “perversions.”
Perhaps I would have liked this book more if those two themes took center stage, but the format of the book doesn’t allow for this. If you’re sold on the epistolary novel concept, then perhaps you’ll like this book more than I did. I found that while it added to the story’s authenticity, it also was its Achilles, ensuing that the best parts of the story had to be inferred. The more Simone discussed Charles’ love of penetration, the more I wanted to know what was going on in Charles head. I wanted to know more about her day-to-day life than how long she spent “reliving” memories of their coupling, or pining over his last letter.
That said, this book’s saving grace is in the editing. I was smothered by Simone’s infatuation and desperation, but found relief in historical commentary and bigger-picture analysis in the footnotes and introduction. Without annotation, the reader would find it hard to follow anything other than Simone and Charles’ sex life. Footnotes are the only indication of a story in a book that would otherwise be categorized as simple historical erotica.
If nothing else, this book forced me to take on a character and a situation with which I had no hope of identifying. If you’re willing to do the same, and give this book a chance, you’ll walk away with a colorful understanding of human sexuality in the 1920’s and today. When I finally put this book down, I felt that I knew a bit more about the lengths people take to explore a forbidden sexuality, and the psychology of the adulterous. I just wish that those had been more prominent themes. Instead, when I think of this book, I will remember pages upon pages of cringe-worthy pleading and extensive sexual pandering.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.