Blah blah controversial blah. There are loads of other reviews in which you can read about that aspect of Lost Girls. It’s probably obvious to most pe...moreBlah blah controversial blah. There are loads of other reviews in which you can read about that aspect of Lost Girls. It’s probably obvious to most people on my friends list which side of the debate I’d be on and so here I’d rather just talk about what I thought was good and not. (Very late to the party here – quite a few friends had copies years ago, but as with Alan Moore comics in general, people were reluctant to lend them to anyone. I later became wary of it because technically some of the contents became illegal in the UK in 2010 – but it appears to be a tacit exception because it’s still sold by mainstream booksellers; possibly it’s classified as art although it does identify itself as porn.)
And this graphic novel is silly like porn is silly (it does deliberately identify itself as porn): every occasion is an excuse for sex, the likes of room-service staff are jumped on and welcome it (much of it’s set in a hotel where the three main characters happen to meet as adults in 1914), and generally if anyone’s not sure at first they are very soon afterwards. It’s working to a different set of conventions from literary stories – those of mainstream pre-gonzo porn films, the shagging-the-plumber sort of thing.
It didn’t, as I assumed it would, take the original stories it’s based on (Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan) and simply put sex in them – it rewrote them in such a way that the original environments and events seemed like symbols for the main characters’ early sexual experiences. This worked best with Peter Pan, because it has a fairly obvious sexual / romantic undertone between the main characters anyway. The idea of Captain Hook as a flasher and sex offender also fitted very well. (Though the story could have done with Tiger Lily as a real character, not just a dress-up costume. And I didn’t like the way grown-up Wendy looked so severe.) Whilst I really liked Moore & Gebbie’s characterisation of Dorothy – she’s so sweet and enthusiastic, regardless of her filthy adventures - her back story, a series of seductions of various farmhands, wasn’t as inventive as the others and more could have been done with the original IMO. Alice’s story jarred slightly in the narrative, because experiences of abuse which were clearly presented as traumatic for the character, complete with dissociation, appear in a narrative which otherwise is a straightforward sort of porn in which characters enjoy themselves without consequences. (Maybe I expect it to be either ‘porn’ or ‘a story of the characters’ sex lives with the bad bits left in’ plus possible commentary on Victorian / Edwardian hidden sleaze, rather than the mixture which it is. Sex is often liberating in Lost Girls, but not always; it's still a somewhat complicated force.) Some of Alice’s young-adult experiences (kept in the household of a dissolute society lesbian, a corollary for the Red Queen) are also rather similar to episodes in Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet.
I thought there was quite a pointless amount of incest in the various stories where it wasn’t relevant. (I know it’s a very common motif in porn because of the taboo, I’m just one of those people it does nothing for and who thereby doesn’t quite get it. In the case of the main characters it creates possible interpretations of all of them as victims, which is unwelcome, and which seems antithetical to the sex-positive ideals of the book.) Several of the storylines would have worked just as well – better to some of us - if characters had been unrelated, or just cousins which would have been quite common at that time (e.g. Annabel/Tinkerbell and Peter). In some instances it was possible to forget about it or just mentally rename/derelate characters, as the writing was otherwise pretty good or even occasionally somehow transcended that aspect.
The authors present some argument in the narrative (quite meta) accompanying the characters’ reading of some late Victorian incest-porn: “It is a crime, but this is the idea of incest, no? …It is quite monstrous, except that they are fictions…Fiction and fact, only madmen and magistrates cannot discriminate between them…if this were real, it would be horrible…but they are fictions. They are uncontaminated by effects and consequences. Why, they are almost innocent.” (With clear and habitual understanding of the consequences from other sources, a very occasional narrative without them is surreal.) Yet one of its most potentially powerful arguments is left less clear by being presented only in pictures: the panels of the dying soldier in the trenches in the last pages. Evidently it asks the question why so many people consider it okay to present war, violence and killing as glorious and/or fun, whilst considering various degrees of sexual activity (legal or otherwise) not okay, or damaging if shown in similar ways.
I wasn’t all that keen on Gebbie’s main art style in the narrative – though it does have a good way of showing the squashiness of the human body – I prefer more clearly delineated pictures and I did like many of the drawings when the outlines were sharper. (Surely it is the case with comics that such a large number of drawings are produced that it would be impossible for all to be perfect, and that there would be no panels in which characters don’t have odd faces, for instance.) There are so many styles in here though and that’s what, cumulatively, is impressive, to produce and pastiche all these. Her Art Nouveau style pictures were particularly lovely and detailed. The messy haziness of the predominant style worked beautifully, however, in the elegiac scene in which characters have an opium-fulelled orgy on an island (complete with colonial imagery) at the same time Duke Franz Ferdinand is shot: also the loveliest writing in the book as a world slips away for ever. And the spell was broken, just like that. As we came to ourselves we noticed how cold it had grown, a winter breath insinuated in the grass that paled the flowers and slowed the hearts of dragonflies. Something had changed. A certain inclination of the light, a shift of pressure in the air. Without the burning armour of our lust, I’m sure we all felt naked then. Three goose-fleshed women in a wood, suddenly awkward, unsure of their grace, abandoned by desire. Something quite glorious was finished with for good. A season turned. We hardly spoke, returning to the boat. The sun had all but gone, leaving a somber, elegiac light towards the West. No birds were flying overhead… There were no birds to fly.
If this is the book I'm remembering, it had quite a bit of forced submission which wasn't to my taste. But if that's your thing this should be pretty...moreIf this is the book I'm remembering, it had quite a bit of forced submission which wasn't to my taste. But if that's your thing this should be pretty decent historical erotica; the writing was good by the standards of similar stuff.(less)
[2.5] Like the other Agent Provocateur book I've already read, this took a while to get to any good bits, and the stories had a male narrative voice f...more[2.5] Like the other Agent Provocateur book I've already read, this took a while to get to any good bits, and the stories had a male narrative voice for a surprising amount of the time. Though unlike Secrets the book and characters chime with the AP brand image from the start.
This is called a novella, but it is really a series of short stories about the sexual adventures of one character. V is a glamorous and confident woman - in her late 30s, I'd estimate - in a marriage of convenience to a closeted gay aristocrat and investor. She lives a luxurious and decadent lifestyle and has broad (though not shocking) sexual tastes. Several of the tales are narrated by a male friend-with-benefits and confidante of V's, though there are a few first person accounts too.
Some of the stories work as erotica but several are beset by overcomplicated positions which make you wonder how someone is managing to do something, laugh, or wince a little. (At least the characters are human enough to experience discomfort, such as at several points during the somewhat improbable foursome in the back of a moving black cab.)
Whilst the glamour of it all is quite fun, there is a bit too much of a class divide, which doesn't sit well for me in a modern book with little character development or complexity. Not all of V's friends and conquests appear stupendously wealthy, but the likes of bar staff and maids don't have speaking roles and aren't really humanised where it would be appropriate to do so. And there are lazy national stereotypes in the first couple of tales. These issues are both a bit of a turn off if noticed.
V never seems to worry or doubt at any point. She - a fantasy of decadent perfection - is, perhaps, the image in the mirror that AP imagines its customers want to be at the moment of purchase. She does not come across as a real person, even though there should be some room for that in 138 pages. It's possible that this is because the stories are told by a character who idealises her, but I'm not sure this book has that much depth.
The best bit of writing in here is not about sex: it's a couple of pages about being up early one morning and watching the rest of London gradually wake, from the vantage point of a high flat near the Thames.(less)
[2.5] I only read this because I'd owned it and ignored it for years and decided it was time to work through some of these unread books. And I was - ev...more[2.5] I only read this because I'd owned it and ignored it for years and decided it was time to work through some of these unread books. And I was - eventually - pleasantly surprised.
It was odd that the first two stories had male narrators who were a bit grubby and not particularly nice people; it didn't set a good tone, but the subsequent pieces were mostly more female focused.
However, the collection is sadly lacking in female protagonists who take the lead in a vanilla sense or are dominant in a kinky sense. Whilst there are first-person narratives about female submissives who are actively desiring subjects enjoying themselves, for a general - rather than themed - collection, this book needed to have more of a balance.
Most of the stories take place in rather cliched scenarios such as work based affairs and first dates. Considered simply as pieces of writing they don't really rise above them and are not of a particularly high quality, but several work well as erotica. "A Taste of Honey" displayed the greatest such contrasts for me: the structure was woefully uneven and needed a full redraft, yet it swept me along as its beginning found the point where reality can tip into fantasy and the story was hot, somewhat suspenseful and stirring of emotions and memories.
Inevitably, as with many erotica collections, there were a couple of stories that were a little creepy or icky, but the majority are the sort of thing I would expect from Agent Provocateur: the sex was nothing too out of the ordinary by the standards of modern mainstream media, with some kink, and mostly tales of people with comfortable lives.(less)
[3.5] This is somewhat better than the other two Agent Provocateur books I've read, Secrets and The Secret Life of V. And as with most short story col...more[3.5] This is somewhat better than the other two Agent Provocateur books I've read, Secrets and The Secret Life of V. And as with most short story collections, there are great pieces and weaker ones.
The premise of the book - that these stories are all the adventures of one woman - doesn't come off in the slightest. There is no sense of similar identity and personality , and no continuity between the tales. If taken as a collection of erotic stories with first-person female narrators, though, this book is fine. It also makes a refreshing change from Secrets and V which included more male narration than I would expect for erotica marketed to women.
The opening and closing words of this volume are annoying from a feminist perspective: "I prefer to be ... whoever you want me to be" and similar - but they can, to a significant extent, be disregarded when considering the actual stories.
One story here, "I am your Muse" stands head and shoulders above the rest - and other stories in the AP collections. This has strong characters, a touch of originality and a bit of a twist, as well as good description, erotic and otherwise. It's the sort of thing I've come to expect from the much better Cleis Press Best Women's Erotica series.
The other stories provide strong fantasy settings, both historical and modern (an 18th century courtesan and a 21st century woman on MDMA at an orgy both have lots of fun during their respective house parties) - but if you are the type to be distracted by anomalous details, you will be from time to time. And most of the pieces are pretty hot, with two exceptions. "I am your Private Dancer" is about a lap dancer having sex with a persistent and threatening client to get rid of him. That's just not sexy at all. "I am your Owner" kind of works as a standard dominatrix scenario until details make it seem (for it's not wholly clear) that it's set in a community where slave ownership was a historical and economic reality, and that the male slave is black. This sort of transgressive dark fantasy has its place for some people without necessarily being a reflection of their politics, as the Max Moseley case showed. But it is unexpected - and doesn't sit well in - a mainstream erotica collection like this.
But overall, if you were to read one Agent Provocateur erotica collection, Confessions or The Secret Life of I would be the best choice. It has more good and absorbing stories than the others, whilst not being without its weak points.(less)
Considerably more consistent in quality than the other Agent Provocateur books I've read*, it's competent, though not particularly imaginative, erotic...moreConsiderably more consistent in quality than the other Agent Provocateur books I've read*, it's competent, though not particularly imaginative, erotica. Many of the characters are professional and well-off Londoners, fitting with AP's brand. This is 'does what it says on the tin' type stuff.
There are plenty of mentions of fancy underwear and other accoutrements which probably aim to inspire a purchase from the company.
The book has just enough sub-editing errors to irritate at times: e.g. punctuation and grammar faults (including one in a story narrated by an English teacher - oh dear!), continuity errors (magically disappearing knickers when a character is tied up) and general knowledge failings (Michaelangelo's David isn't exactly known for being well-endowed).
If you want to read some modern short erotica with better writing and less cliche than these AP books, then you could do worse than check out Cleis Press' Best Women's Erotica series, or similar books edited by Violet Blue and Rachel Kramer Bussel.
* Secrets, Secret Life of V, Secret Life of I(less)
All the stories in this collection are told from the viewpoints of male subs (either in first or third person) - I wish I'd known that before buying....moreAll the stories in this collection are told from the viewpoints of male subs (either in first or third person) - I wish I'd known that before buying. Two earlier collections edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel, She's on Top and Yes Ma'am, have more variety, and therefore more stories from the domme's perspective. Cleis Press short story anthologies always have pretty good quality writing, and certainly better than that in the torrent of trashy erotica that's appeared since 50 Shades of Grey.(less)
Much human - and some non-human - weirdness is here in these cyberpunk sex stories. Almost everything apart from your conventional vanilla slightly-do...moreMuch human - and some non-human - weirdness is here in these cyberpunk sex stories. Almost everything apart from your conventional vanilla slightly-dom male/ slightly-sub female pairing. Instead: the femme assassin contracted to hunt down her secret butch lover; female gangsters kidnap the male star of the current fifteen minutes; the drug-addicted hooker who's also half-cat; the sex-cult priestess who never has sex herself; corrupt immigration officials having a threesome with a beautiful hermaphrodite; tentacle porn; semi-cyborgs who sell their experiences to plugged in paying customers... You get the idea. Maybe. (And then there's an utterly extraordinary story about abusive relationships: this book is more than just erotica.)
Midori is better known under that oddly American term, as an "educator" in kink matters - an author of factual books and giver of talks and workshops. In Master Han's Daughter it's evident that she can also write pretty reasonable fiction.
Firstly, she can often make scenes hot despite violence and weirdness. (So if you're actually really into that stuff, then you'd probably love this book even more). And that hotness makes it utterly evident how and why many of the characters use sex as escapism from their brutal lives.
She creates a complex world in which characters from one story may appear in the background in others - and we get an idea of government, international politics, religion and the lifestyles of rich and poor.
She understands something that few curent erotica writers have grasped: stories don't always have to have happy endings and a trajectory of emotional "realness" can make them more appealing.
The story Love - which in the notes Midori states was inspired by a friend who fell into "an unhealthy relationship of profound codependency" - is a mindblowing (and stomach-churning) short fable applicable to anything from being too into someone who is a little bit of a bad influence, to full-on domestic violence. It's some of the best, and least cliched, fiction I've ever read on the subject and I would easily give it six stars.
Not in that story, but in some, and in the general features of this world, there are various cyberpunk cliches. In the opener where a male character - worrying about his marginal life and his next fix - takes a break to get off with an internet neural plugin to a Japanese porn star in a schoolgirl outfit, it was difficult not to imagine Neuromancer starring Momus. (Midori has the courtesy to state that the porn star is 21, to alleviate possible legal dubiousness for readers in some countries.)
If Sarah Waters wrote Vikings ... but with less oppression and more sex.
Whilst you probably have to be into the Xena type (and I'm not) to find this s...moreIf Sarah Waters wrote Vikings ... but with less oppression and more sex.
Whilst you probably have to be into the Xena type (and I'm not) to find this stuff hot, the book is also a very silly and entertaining suspense-filled swords-and-sorcery adventure about a young lesbian Norse warrior.
Along the way it also manages to philosophise about the experience of war and being violent, and have a strong opinion about the effects of the introduction of Christianity on women.
The author apparently has a postgrad degree in Scandinavian history, and it shows: there is a lot of great detail about objects and material culture of a quality you wouldn't generally expect in a story like this one. She also begins the book with a paragraph about warrior women excerpted from medieval Danish chronicler Saxo Grammaticus: quality! She takes liberties with aspects of the setting - e.g. showing Viking mercenaries in William the Conqueror's army - but it's not like total historical accuracy is the objective here. (less)