I am always interested in what the competition is doing and, being on the verge of publishing a new story called Playing With Fire, I couldn’t help bu...moreI am always interested in what the competition is doing and, being on the verge of publishing a new story called Playing With Fire, I couldn’t help but be drawn to this coruscating new novel from Rachel Kushner which has as its epigraph Fac ut ardeat – Made to burn.
The narrator is an artsy biker girl. She breaks the women’s speed record in the Salt Flats in Utah. She has the hots for young firebrands and trailblazers. She mixes it up with artists in New York. She writes scorching prose.
I can’t drive, I have to admit, and I have never ridden a motorbike, except once as a terrified passenger, going at 17 mph in congested rush-hour London. (Never again!) But yet I could relate to this book and this heroine, who is called Reno, although that isn’t her real name.
In Nevada she meets a man called Stretch (possibly not his real name), who lets her sleep in his room because the motel he runs is full. He doesn’t take advantage of her. Instead he only comes into her room to shower.
While the water ran I hurriedly pulled on my leathers. I was making the bed when he emerged, a towel around his waist. Tall and blond and lanky, like a giraffe, water beading on skin that was ruddy from the hot shower. He asked if I minded covering my eyes for a moment. I felt his nudity as he changed, but I suppose he could just as easily claim to have felt mine, right there under my clothes.
This is hot, very American, very rakish – almost masculine – modern prose that doesn’t bother about predicates but has lashings of flair and attitude. There is an authentic cadence to the dialogue that made me shiver.
“I never met a girl who rides Italian motorcycles,” he said. “It’s like you aren’t real.”
(I get that a lot. “I never met a Chinese girl who writes erotica. Are you for real?”)
Reno doesn’t have sex with Stretch, even though he’s almost poignantly desperate to rub his nearly naked body up against her leathers. Instead she has imaginary conversations with him years later in which they say very American, seventies things to each other in a romantic setting.
“Were you ever in Vietnam?” I’d ask, assuming some terrible story would come tumbling out, me there to offer some comfort, the two of us in the cab of an old white pickup, the desert sun orange and giant over the flat edge of a Nevada horizon. “Me?” he’d say. “Nah.”
This is an ambitious book. You can tell it’s ambitious because many reviewers mention how brilliantly it is written while admitting that they struggled to finish it.
(That’s a reason that I write short stories and novellas, by the way.)
But I recommend this big, sprawling, hardback treasure of a book. It’s a great inspiration for writers and if you’re truly hungry for great writing, its length isn’t an obstacle at all. Prose like this can be consumed greedily and in haste, the way a well-oiled engine sucks in air and petrol and spews out a great whooshing tongue of flame.(less)
You know what? I'm going to stick my neck out and give this book five stars. I don't like the cover and I don't read a lot of erotic romance but I was...moreYou know what? I'm going to stick my neck out and give this book five stars. I don't like the cover and I don't read a lot of erotic romance but I was attracted to this book by something deeper than the cover or the genre.
I've been racking my brains trying to think how to express what it is that I like about this book. I know that I like it but it's hard to explain.
What I do read a lot of is erotica. And when you read a lot of erotica you start to wonder if something serious is missing from your sex life. I mean, am I the only woman who can have an orgasm without being tied up or vampirized or handcuffed to a toilet in a public bar?
I hate being called vanilla. But the truth is I love vanilla. In fact, chain me up someone, please, because I'm addicted to vanilla ice cream. Vanilla is a very subtle flavour, I find, and very versatile. Vanilla goes with lots of things. Lots of very naughty things.
Vanilla goes very well with hot Tunisian ruins bleached by a scorching sun. It goes splendidly with a sexy, mature American archaeologist who behaves almost as well as an English gentleman.
Of course, if he behaved exactly like an English gentleman there wouldn't even be any vanilla in the story and Beth would have her tongue hanging out with nothing to lick. But Beth is not disappointed.
I was not disappointed either.
But I was excited in a very comfortable, well-cushioned sort of way. I was able to sink back in my plumped-up pillows and enjoy the vanilla action with complete, languid, unhurried satisfaction.
I like the way Kay Jaybee tells this story. In fact, this isn't the first Kay Jaybee story I've read. I've read a few because I like her style.
The stories don't overreach themselves. They don't try to shock you or do something that other stories don't. They do something much cleverer than that. They dig deep. They draw on little things that happen in real life and turn them into very plausible adventures that could happen to you or me. They make me feel connected and turned on.
That's not something I want to underestimate. After all, just like with those vanilla ice creams, I keep going back for more.(less)
This anthology edited by D.L. King is a collection of truly scrumptious stories about sex with a succubus. There are twenty-one fabulous stories here...moreThis anthology edited by D.L. King is a collection of truly scrumptious stories about sex with a succubus. There are twenty-one fabulous stories here and it would be unfair to single out one or two for praise but I’m going to be unfair because I want to give you just a little tease and taste.
But before I do so, let me say that there is one thing all these stories have in common, besides being brilliant, and that is that they are all very short. Yes, it may be stating the obvious but they are all very short. My guess is that they are all under 3,000 words.
I mention this because I would really like to draw attention to the skill of these writers in being able to capture my attention and impress me so much with such very brief and fleeting stories.
Jean Roberta’s story has a very long title: Moon Like a Sickle, Wind Like a Knife, but the story itself is astonishingly succinct and concise. She shows just how much you can put into a sentence if you really try. In two beautifully concentrated pages she sets the scene for a fairly complex tale. It’s a rare concoction, ripe with promise, that is dished up over the ensuing pages with lashings of gothic sauce.
Cynthia Rayne's Succumb is even more concise. Her story and her succubus get straight to the point. 'Brad, I need you to f--- me!' the demon declares. He gets on with the job and, 'I came immediately, ' we are told. But this swift sexual activity leaves room for some devilishly languid scheming, which takes place in an atmosphere of brooding menace. I succumbed to this story. It has depth. There's far more to Feckless Fanny than there seems.
And there’s so much more to this anthology, too.
If you are weary, dip into the sensuous descriptions of Jay Lawrence in Deliverance. Revel in Evan Mora's wicked retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Delight in the sophisticated subtlety of Angela Caperton's The Sorcerer's Catch, a very clever tale in which reality seems as fragile as black lace lingerie.
And still there’s more...
D.L King has done a wonderful job because she has brought together in one book some of the finest contemporary erotic writers and given them a theme that has evidently inspired them to new heights. So if you’ve never thought about sex with a succubus and you’d like to know more, this is a good place to start. If, like me, you’ve thought of it often and consider yourself something of an expert, this book will take you to the next level. Believe me, it really is that good!(less)
This is a sophisticated story for sophisticated readers. At the beginning I was having to re-read each sentence three or four times. The English isn't...moreThis is a sophisticated story for sophisticated readers. At the beginning I was having to re-read each sentence three or four times. The English isn't difficult but the context is. The narrator is at a friend's house watching some old reels of film from her life in South Africa. Many questions played through my mind. How old is the person telling the story? Where is she? How old was she in that film? Who are these friends? Are they close friends or just acquaintances? Gradually, if you're patient, the questions get answered. The reels of film trigger flashbacks and revive old memories. The watchers of the films get one story. We get another.
It's an ambitious technical device and I was thinking that I was going to be very disappointed if the narrator didn't do something special with it and repay the effort I was making to interpret the layers of meaning.
But as the story unfolded I realised before I got to the end that I actually was being treated to something very special indeed. I became engrossed in the story and in the searingly honest character of the narrator. As she began to dissect her emotions and the motivations behind her relationships, I became hooked.
The layered viewpoints and the indirectness of the storytelling are not gratuitous. There are poignant ironies in the story that the narrator couldn't have conveyed any other way.
The tension builds. There is a climax. It's beautifully done. It's astonishingly economical storytelling. Thirty-eight succinct pages hold all the depth and range of a novel.
And then there is one final, crushing, heart-stopping revelation. Something she can't tell her friends but which she has told us, the sophisticated readers, who have stayed with her story to the end. I was totally gripped by the last few pages. Nothing could have wrenched me from my seat.
Muriel Spark seems to be regarded as old-fashioned by some readers these days. That seems a great pity. This kind of narrative power should never go out of fashion. It is heartening to see, therefore that her complete stories have recently been published in a new edition by Canongate, one of the more enlightened of British independent publishers (another of their recent titles was Life of Pi).(less)
The trouble with language is that it doesn’t have any taste or smell or colour. You can’t feel it lick your face. It doesn’t prick you like a tattoois...moreThe trouble with language is that it doesn’t have any taste or smell or colour. You can’t feel it lick your face. It doesn’t prick you like a tattooist’s needle. It doesn’t make you bleed.
Unless, that is, you are Viola di Grado, an Italian Goth who can make a trip to the mall sound like something from Dante’s Inferno. She has a sick and morbid imagination. She writes with the otherworldly sensitivity of someone who should really be in a psychiatric ward. She is creative in ways you couldn’t possibly predict. And she has written a defiantly unromantic love story that had me in tears from page 18.
You could say that this book is about language. The narrator, Camelia, lives in Leeds, which in winter ‘unleashes a lethal wind full of the short sharp vowels of northern Englishmen.’ After quitting university she works as a translator for a manufacturer of washing machines. Her translations run around in her brain imbuing her actions with bizarre metaphorical banality even when she is doing something much more significant than either working or doing her laundry, such as quarrelling with her mother, remembering her father, or losing her virginity to the idiot brother of the man she loves. Her quarrels with her mother take place in a world without language. Their conversations are silent. They speak with looks. And all the while Camelia is learning Chinese with the unfathomable Wen, who spurns her love and eludes her attempt to have a real relationship based on clear and unambiguous communication. ‘Talk, you bastard!’ she tells him but when he does she forgets how to breathe.
To say that the author uses language expertly would be an understatement. In an inspired translation by Michael Reynolds, the novel blends English, Italian and Chinese to impart something that exists beyond words with a surreal, symbolic language all its own.
An unromantic swim in Scarborough becomes, in Camelia’s world, a traumatic metaphor for a life that has been devastated by her move to England, by her mother’s suffering, by her father’s death. She can be assaulted by colours, mauled by the sky, humiliated and beaten up by the rain. In her world bones can awaken, rocks can be brought brutally to life and mute houses can reverberate to ‘a veritable rapture of sounds riddled with meanings.’
The ending isn’t happy. The author despises happy endings. But it isn’t unhappy in the way I expected. It was chilling. Shocking. Life and death hung in the balance. But whose? The twists and turns were stomach churning. You may end up vomiting this book. Or you may, like me, end up loving it. It made me feel gratefully, blissfully alive.(less)
I am writing this review after one of the wettest Decembers on record. I suppose that in itself might be a recommendation, especially if I told you th...moreI am writing this review after one of the wettest Decembers on record. I suppose that in itself might be a recommendation, especially if I told you that I was wet with this book in the mall, on the sofa, in the bath and in bed. But, although the erotic content of this book was as unrelenting as December's rain, what I really loved about it was its language.
True, it wasn't easy maintaining a reviewer's perspective. More than once I lost my place, my objectivity and my decorum. I had to read certain passages twice. Oh, all right, three times. Once for the meaning, once for the language and once because I got distracted the first two times.
If you haven't come across Sweetmeats Press before, you should know that Kojo Black is its presiding genius. And one of the reasons that Sweetmeats Press is fast becoming one of my favourite and most trusted imprints is that Kojo is a very gifted editor with a deep love of all things erotic. That love is very evident here in the finely crafted sentences that are as inventive as they are explicit.
There are four long stories in this collection and they are very varied in approach, so there is a lot I could say about them from a technical point of view. But let me just say that my favourite moment occurs at the climax of Beaches and Cream when shy, innocent Amanda is introduced to the pleasures of a smooth, glass, ornamental anal plug. It is beautifully done, let me assure you, and if Kojo can handle such a scene beautifully, just think of the endless possibilities!
Oh, but I know thinking is an effort sometimes, whether you are laid out on a beach soaking up the sun or stuck indoors watching the pounding rain. But that's okay. Kojo has done all the thinking for you. So relax, lie back and luxuriate in some of the most imaginative erotic writing you will read this year.(less)
When you read as much erotica as I do, you need something a little bit different, something of exceptional quality to get you really excited. Fortunat...moreWhen you read as much erotica as I do, you need something a little bit different, something of exceptional quality to get you really excited. Fortunately, there are many gifted writers in the genre and occasionally all my needs are met in one eclectic, varied volume, such as this one from Sweetmeats Press.
The stories in this collection are from five different but very accomplished authors, each with their own strengths. The theme is altered states of consciousness and each author has interpreted this theme in a very different way.
In Sommer Marsden's Sugarshuttle Express, we experience hallucinogenic hardcore. "Simplistic sex," Sommer tells us at one point, "which is often the best." Extremely graphic, high-octane, high-impact simplistic sex.
The sensual sorcery of Vanessa de Sade's Gilinda and the Wicked Witch is almost a relief, set as it is in a beautiful Edwardian spa. But it's not long before the flame of passion quickens and some seriously sexual secrets spume forth in frothy purple prose. It is a long story and, be warned, there is no respite. It's a coiling tornado of explicit, ecstatic and voluptuously sinful depravity.
Kristina Wright mercifully introduces a cooling draught of intellectual rigour into the anthology. Her thoughtful tale about Lilith, Adam and Eve encourages you to pause for reflection in each of its three beautifully crafted sections. We get the history of humanity summed up first from Adam's, then from Lilith's and finally from Eve's perspective. There are some surprises here, not least in the elegant and effortless way in which Kristina weaves so much lewd sexual activity into her philosophical thesis. In a very strong anthlology, this story appealed to me the most, with its artful feminism, delicious sensuality and perfect rhythms.
After the gentle ironies of Lilith Returns, Velvet Tripp's story comes as a shock. Occult, brutal, Gothic, orgiastic, debauched and demonic, this is a very detailed description of an unusual exorcism. At least I hope it's unusual. Sometimes I think I've led a very sheltered life. I don't even have a tattoo.
And after that confession, here's another. I read Fulani's story first. It's called Smoking Hot and, believe me, it is. Fulani's confident, direct, hard, assured style is perfectly suited to the subject matter of a conservative woman suddenly yielding to the dark promptings of her subconscious sexual desires. I knew right away I was in for a treat and I wasn't disappointed.
Each story is available individually as an e-book, but why not treat yourself to the full experience by buying them together as a paperback. Then you can have a sensual riffle under the duvet of a morning. I've been riffling repeatedly since I got this and my mind hasn't been the same since.(less)
If I were being totally honest I'd say I don't want you to even think about reading this book. It's too big. I'm worried that you'll ignore Twitter an...moreIf I were being totally honest I'd say I don't want you to even think about reading this book. It's too big. I'm worried that you'll ignore Twitter and forget to update Facebook. You might even switch off the internet entirely. Worst of all, you won't have time to read my slim, svelte, economical masterpieces. Seriously, you could fit my entire oeuvre into Hugo's first few chapters.
It may be free on Kindle, but think of the human cost. Think of the – in Hugo's own words – "social asphyxia." Yes, I'm serious. Rather than saving the world from social asphyxia, this book could cause it.
Look, there's a film version that has just been released. Save your time. Watch the film. It has songs in it. It's been tipped to win at least eight oscars already.
Besides, the book is a mess. It's impossible to summarise. The plot is bursting at the seams with minor characters. It's a bloated melodrama that hopes, by bringing a tear to your eye, to change the world.
We all know that's not going to happen. Wars, greed, corruption, poverty and the degradation of our fellows will go on just the same. Literature can't solve the world's problems. Certainly, hiding away in your bedroom and immersing yourself in this sentimental, rambling epic for three months won't help anybody.
Watch the film. And if you still crave literature, try Muriel Spark. (less)
I'm feeling altruistic today so I've decided to share a secret.
Oh, all right, that's a lie. I'm not altruistic I'm big-headed. Someone just wrote this...moreI'm feeling altruistic today so I've decided to share a secret.
Oh, all right, that's a lie. I'm not altruistic I'm big-headed. Someone just wrote this comment on my blog:
Vanessa is the greatest writer of this sort of contemporary genre.
It's in reference to my story Black Silk Blindfold.
What, you might wonder, has this to do with Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence?
I'll tell you. If you want to become a great writer in any genre, you have to read great books and this is one of the greatest books ever. Can you believe there are people reviewing this book on Goodreads and not giving it 5 stars?
This book is sheer genius from beginning to end. It's one of the books that inspired me to become a writer. The dialogue is simply thrilling. I've always wanted to have conversations like the ones in this book. I try, God knows I try, but I keep ending up with the wrong sort of men.
In addition to having great dialogue, this book has Edith Wharton's precise, polished, beautifully understated prose. She has one of the finest minds in the universe but she pays you the tribute of letting you draw your own conclusions. She never hits you over the head with her ideas. They emerge, clear, compelling and irresistible from her brilliantly constructed scenes.
So throw away all those how-to books. If you want to write hot erotica, this is the book you need.(less)
I wouldn't recommend this book to someone who is looking for an erotic thrill at bedtime. It's more of a literary curiosity. Here is a typical sex sce...moreI wouldn't recommend this book to someone who is looking for an erotic thrill at bedtime. It's more of a literary curiosity. Here is a typical sex scene:
"The next morning, after a savage night of love, we put to sea again en route to China."
It's not that Mirbeau can't write erotic descriptions. He can. Look at this:
"Divinely calm and pretty, naked in a transparent tunic of yellow silk, she was languidly stretched out on a tiger skin. Her head lay among the cushions, and with her hands, loaded with rings, she played with a long wisp of her flowing hair. A Laos dog with red hair slept beside her, its muzzle resting on her thigh and a paw upon her breast."
But just when he's getting you worked up into a lather of erotic anticipation, he sickens you with an image of horrific ugliness. He draws from a vast and various store of deformity, pain, violence, mutilation and disease. It's grist to the mill for people who want to write like Tarantino or design a Vivenne Westwood fashion shoot; but for those of us who just want to nod off to a sexy story, it's far too unpleasant.
Of course, the significance of setting the Torture Garden in China wasn't lost on me. It's a political book and the commentary on China is as politically charged as the commentary on France. Mirbeau is an iconoclast. His ideas deserve serious consideration, which they are not going to get from me here in this review. But he is also a sensationalist. China served his purpose chiefly because it was largely unknown to the West except as a source of opium, exotic flowers, intense perfumes, exquisite tortures and pretty girls with skin like porcelain.
The images are lush and striking but the plot is ultimately a frustrating one. In spite of the overt philosophising, literal meanings prove elusive. So it's neither a good erotic novel nor an effective treatise on morbid beauty. But it is, nevertheless, extraordinary, bold and memorable. And if you enjoyed Mario Praz's The Romantic Agony, you simply have to read The Torture Garden.(less)
Lust has a language all its own and kinkiness is a club where it's important to know the ropes. Not everyone is curious and not everyone who is curiou...moreLust has a language all its own and kinkiness is a club where it's important to know the ropes. Not everyone is curious and not everyone who is curious will be converted. But if we don't know the language we are excluded, we are out in the cold.
Rosie is curious. She is warmly curious. Although she begins this novel out in the cold, she manages to get a peek inside, and what she sees makes her put her hand down her knickers.
You'll find hands going in and out of knickers quite a lot in this story. Knickers come down, arses get spanked and pussies get whipped. Rosie reveals all in the finest British English.
If language matters to you, and, like me, you get excited by pure British vowels and references to Nelson's Column, you will adore 'Kinky.' Rosie's vernacular is spot on. The novel has an urban lyricism that warms the cockles of your heart.
But it's international too. Rosie's kinky expectations are raised by a gallant mustachioed Russian called Dimitri, who speaks international English. He says ass instead of arse. He overlooks auxiliaries and fumbles prepositions. He abuses the definite article. Oh, we can all relate to that, can't we?
Rosie writes very delicately of their international relations. Her language is precise, sensual and explicit. She is no shrinking violet but everything is quite new to her and she records her experiences with bright enthusiasm. Everything has the sheen of newness and pulsates with dewy youth.
Needless to say, I was charmed by 'Kinky' and basked in its unpretentious brilliance. It told of lust in language I could understand.(less)
You never stop learning a language, which is why I buy two unabridged English novels from Audible every month and listen to them with as much concentr...moreYou never stop learning a language, which is why I buy two unabridged English novels from Audible every month and listen to them with as much concentration as I can muster. Style is very important. I don't like to listen to bad style. So I choose very carefully what I listen to. Those books become like voices in my head. I absorb every cadence. I internalise, verbalise and repeat.
Finally I have found time for Alan Hollinghurst. He's been on my list for a long time because everybody in the literary establishment says what a fine style he has.
I agree. He has a very fine English style. He also has a delicate sensibility. He has a beautiful sense of irony. He is mischievous, cheeky and arch, while at the same time having a coy vulnerability.
Let's listen in on the secret thoughts of his narrator, William Beckwith, as he goes back to the hotel of his latest pick-up, an athletic young boy called Phil:
I was so lucky in general, so blessed, that my pick-ups were virtually instantaneous: the man I fancied took in my body, my cock, my blue eyes at a glance. Misunderstandings were almost unknown. Any uncertainty in a boy I wanted was usually overcome by the simple insistence of my look. But with Phil I had let something dangerous happen, a roundabout, slow insinuation into my feelings. Though I very much wanted to fuck his big, muscly bum – and several times dropped behind a step or two to see it working as he walked – my stronger feeling was more protective and caressing. It was growing so strong that it allowed doubts not entertained in the brief certainties of casual sex. If I had got it all wrong, if going back to his place meant a drink in the bar, a game of chess, a handshake – 'I've got an early start tomorrow' – the evening would be agony. Already I dreamt up headaches, queazy tums, excuses for dullness and an early escape; and I was so tense that as I did so I even began to feel the symptoms.
I wish I could quote more but already there is a lot going on. Hollinghurst takes a cliché of romantic fiction and gives it several ironic twists. The cliché in this case is that of the serial philanderer who meets our heroine and is reformed by love. Here the philanderer is a gay man. This is a beautiful twist. But he is also the narrator, which is another twist. We are asked to identify with the philanderer. To make it even more piquant, the philanderer is an aristocratic English gentleman who has been brought up in the finest English traditions – the traditions of queazy tums and other feeble excuses.
Hollinghurst's ironies are best enjoyed in longer passages than this. But his ironies would be empty without the delicious observational details –
I very much wanted to fuck his big, muscly bum – and several times dropped behind a step or two to see it working as he walked
which make listening or reading to him such a joy.
Excellent English style is not just about vocabulary, word order and syntax. It is about something that is very hard to teach. It is something that perhaps you are born with, I don't know, or that you have to absorb and acquire in the nursery. It's about sensibility.
I'm hoping that having this voice in my head will help me acquire a refined English sensibility.
My only worry is that this particularly wicked, arch and mischievous voice will corrupt me and have me thinking about cocks and bums far more than is good for me. (less)