I'm talking about an erotic novel here, so maybe don't read my review if you tend to get offended by open and frank discussion about sexual acts. JustI'm talking about an erotic novel here, so maybe don't read my review if you tend to get offended by open and frank discussion about sexual acts. Just warning you in advance :)
Okay, firstly, this is porn. Just porn. Not a great literary achievement, not something that will sit snug in your mind with the Austen and Bronte classics... PORN. It got quite a reputation for being the first pornography to appear in novel form, and it also got a reputation because it was banned for multiple centuries and resulted in a prison sentence for the author. Being published in 1748, I can't say I'm surprised. In fact, the much more surprising thing is that books like Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928) and Delta of Venus (1977) caused such a controversy when Cleland's work had already beaten them to it two hundred years beforehand.
This is far more scandalous than Lady Chatterley's Lover and about on a par with Delta of Venus. The story is a rather disturbing (even by today's standards) tale about a fifteen year old girl who engages in sex with both men and women, participates in mutual masturbation, almost gets raped, falls into prostitution, takes part in orgies, whips a man for his sexual pleasure, and witnesses two men having anal sex only to report them to the local villagers. During this time, Fanny also manages to fall in love several times and - to give credit where it's due - does experience quite a bit of growth as a woman and as a human being.
The plot, though, is completely ridiculous, moves too fast, and ends up feeling sloppy and careless. Fanny runs from lover to lover in what feels like a bunch of short stories about sexual encounters than a full novel about a woman's sexual exploration. It must be pointed out that Cleland's portrayal of female sexuality and the ability for women to have sex for pleasure, not just to make babies or appease their husbands, seems incredibly before it's time. However, Fanny Hill is not a particularly strong character and her circumstances are often a result of where others put her, not where she takes herself.
When it comes to this kind of book, I always try and look it at from two angles and see if it delivers on either: 1) as a novel, or 2) as porn. I don't believe it delivers on the first beyond introducing the eighteenth century to the exploration of female sexuality. As for the second, well, I guess there's something for everyone stuck in here somewhere. Especially if you get hot when female genitalia is described as "clammy" and a guy's penis is described in this way: "not the play-thing of a boy, not the weapon of a man, but a maypole of so enormous a standard, that had proportions been observ’d, it must have belong’d to a young giant." Are you fanning yourself with desire? Then this is the book for you!...more
There are some people who view the line between consent and non-consent, between sex and rape, as blurry. There aWarning: this review is not censored.
There are some people who view the line between consent and non-consent, between sex and rape, as blurry. There are some people who would gladly place blame for rape on that drunk girl in the short skirt who was "asking for it". There are some people who would view flirting and dancing suggestively as an invitation that should be followed through no matter what, it's not the other person's fault for holding the suggestive dancer down and raping them, afterall, it's not really rape if they were flirting first. There are some people who think rape is erotic. And there are some people who think serial killers are sexy.
I am not one of those people.
I'm sure people will start to make assumptions about the kind of person I am as soon as they see my negative rating. I'm sure I can't do anything to change most people's minds. But I am going to tell you a few things about me. For one, I am not a prude. I like reading books about sex. Sometimes I like reading books about kinky sex. I don't mind reading books that push the boundaries with kinky sex into just plain old weird sex. People have their odd kinks and who am I to judge? You want to go home, tie each other up and urinate on one another? You have my full blessing. But there is a line. And that line is drawn, for me, at consent. It isn't a blurry line, it's a straight, permanent marker type line. No non-consensual sex. No sex with those who are not in a position to give consent which, in case you were wondering, includes the mentally unstable, children and animals.
This book isn't a love story. This book is about a rape victim and a rapist. This book is not sexy. This book is not BDSM. This book is not okay. This book is abuse. This book makes Fifty Shades of Grey look like My Little Pony. This book makes Story of O look romantic. This book is rape. The actions in it are inexcusable. It makes me sick.
Now, people do bad things. No argument there. And I don't mind when authors show that. Even when they show it graphically, sometimes I think you need to be graphic about it to emphasise the seriousness of the bad that people do. And Stockholm Syndrome is a serious thing that many people have suffered from. I'm not disputing any of this. The issue I take is with the portrayal of this bad as maybe not being so bad, as maybe even being erotic and sexy. My problem is not with the idea that abuse begets abuse (as this story tells us). My problem is when said abuse is used as wank material. Because Olivia is a victim of rape and severe abuse. There are no blurred lines of consent here. She is kidnapped, raped, beaten, humiliated and dehumanised and we are supposed to find it sexy. When even Reage's nameless "O" participates of her own free will.
I'm sure there will be readers ready to point out the sexual responsiveness of Olivia in this book. Well, to that I only wish I still had the link to an article I once read about rape. Rape is, for me, possibly the vilest thing a person can do to another. Because it takes something that on a physical level can be good (sex) and uses it as a weapon by turning it into something completely monstrous. This article I read talked about the embarrassment some rape victims face because their bodies respond to the stimuli that they are biologically programmed to. Some can even experience orgasm from rape. This doesn't make it any less serious or any more consensual. It does not make me feel better in this book when Olivia's body responds to the sexual abuse. I felt like I was watching a dancing bear being tortured into a humiliating performance. It doesn't dance because it wants to.
Caleb is supposed to gain our pity because of his abusive past. And maybe I could have pitied him on some level, maybe I would have found it in my heart to see him like I see Heathcliff - the abused abuser. Maybe I could offer understanding, if not forgiveness. But I cannot offer acknowledgement of his supposed sexiness. A man who does this is not hot:
- he beats her with a belt - he washes her and hits her when she won't open her legs so he can clean her genitals. - he thoroughly enjoys beating her into submission and humiliating her - he gets aroused by her fear and distress
There is also a disturbing link being made here between gender and roles of dominance and submission. This doesn't exist in BDSM. BDSM relationships can be M/F, F/M, M/M, F/F and anything in between. Captive in the Dark suggests that the dominance and submission between Olivia and Caleb is natural because she's a woman and he's a man.
"He was a man, and I? I was nothing but a girl, not even a woman. I was meant to fall at his feet and worship at the alter of his masculinity, grateful that he'd deigned to acknowledge me."
"Male and female, masculine and feminine, hard and soft, predator and prey."
It made me nauseous.
I'm sure someone will be willing to tell me I didn't get it. That I'm too narrow-minded to appreciate the complexity of what's going on here. Well, yes, fine. If you think it makes me narrow-minded to find the kidnapping, beating and raping of a girl unacceptable and not remotely erotic... then yes, I am narrow-minded. I'll drink to that.
I mentioned in my review of Raw that I'm going through some "dark" erotica books as part of a project with my college book club. I also said that I woI mentioned in my review of Raw that I'm going through some "dark" erotica books as part of a project with my college book club. I also said that I wouldn't be writing reviews for most of them because I already know they're not my thing and no one wants to read my constant negativity. But I have decided to comment on a couple that made a significant impression on me.
There's no rating from me for this book because my own tastes would skew it, but I will say: if "dark" erotica is your thing, then this is one of the better ones. It does carry the usual tropes, but in a subgenre that is essentially rape and abuse wrapped up in an "I-am-so-sexy-it's-okay" package, then this book stands out as being well-written, compelling and even romantic at times.
There is a rich man and a relatively inexperienced student. There is a quirky best friend. There is rough sex. As I said, no surprises there. But there is no abuse and any sexual "control" is completely consensual and respectful - to the point where the guy constantly checks to make sure Karissa is okay with everything. He loves and cares for her but, more than that, he respects her as an autonomous individual and frequently asks what she wants.
The "dark" side of this book actually didn't feel that dark to me, but maybe that just means I've seen way too many gangster movies. Usually with these kinds of books, the "dark" aspect is centred around the guy having kidnapped the woman and/or abusing her in some way. Until she inevitably falls in love with him - did you know that it's not really rape if the rapist has a pretty face? Neither did I. But the guy's (still refusing to call him Naz) dark secret in Monster in His Eyes is only indirectly linked to their relationship. It's more to do with his questionable "professional" antics on the side - which I was able to forgive. Unlike actions such as rape and abuse, which I view as unforgivable.
So, my mind hasn't changed about this subgenre, but if you were on the lookout for dark erotica books that don't actually make you want to cast yourself from the nearest tall building... here you go ;)...more