Julie Ambrose's Reviews > Story of O

Story of O by Pauline Réage
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's review
Jul 26, 2012

did not like it

Recommended to me by a bookish friend, I very much looked forward to this literary precursor to 50 Shades of Grey. Not that I've ever been interested in master-slave relationships beyond a scanty understanding of Hegel's dialectic ('the slave is the motor of history'), but the idea of an erotic narrative working in a literary way was infinitely appealing to me.
I stand corrected. Bear in mind, this may purely be my lack of interest in things either sadistic or sexually theatrical, or it may be because the ground of what's 'shocking' has moved dramatically, but Story of O completely failed to sizzle. Put simply, it fizzled.
Yet there's no shortage of intelligence and craft. The story moves fluidly and yet inexorably (as the best books do). There's a masterful economy in the descriptions. There's a lovely distancing effect when the beginning (a woman in a taxi) is retold as 'Another version of the same beginning...' How literary is that? Or am I confusing Story of O with the preamble in the Ballantine Books version ('Happiness in Slavery' by Jean Paulhan, beginning with 'A Revolt in Barbados'), which makes the daring claim that Story of O in not only 'dangerous' and 'erotic' but resembles a 'brilliant feat'? After all, despite its promising beginning, very little else happens of interest for those not especially 'into' BDSM. And even then I'd be asking 'does it really work in that way, or do we merely expect that it should because, after all, it's "literature"?'
I stopped reading and started flicking at page 53. Perhaps I'm just not the right reader for it, or perhaps it's genuinely lost whatever it may once have had (in context) as a piece of literature, in part because that context has changed.
Which begs another question: if the context has moved, where to?

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