Do we really want men reading this stuff?
Posted June 8, 2013on:
The publisher has called this novel controversial. I’m not going to argue with that.
Not everyone is going to like it. Some people will hate it. Probably for the very reasons that make it so good.
I first came across Kristina Lloyd in the Mammoth Book of Erotica 2009. Her story in that collection was exceptional and ever since then I’ve rated her as one of the very best writers in the genre. Thrill Seeker does nothing to change my view but I have to admit that it presents a few challenges.
One of the things Kristina does very well is to stimulate your physical senses. This alone would make her worth reading but Kristina goes further, teasing those elusive other senses of imagination, anticipation and lust. This is where she excels, in my view, for she does it very simply and subtly and with consummate skill.
Here’s an example. Disturbed by the sounds of an intruder while giving her boyfriend a blowjob, Natalie goes downstairs to investigate…
My fingers inched over the wall’s rough stone as I descended to the kitchen. I heard nothing, saw no shadows shifting. I crept down the final few steps then switched on the light. Scanning the room, I tried to make sense of the mess. Shards of glass sparkled on the drainer of the sink. The windows were intact. No one was here. One window was open, its drooping metal handle scraping against the outside wall, hinges banging in the clattering rain. The damp gingham curtains fluttered in the breeze, ditsy flags of surrender. A vase. My glass vase on the windowsill had smashed. A wine glass too by the looks of it. The back door was ajar. My heart was thumping, my throat parched.
Liam’s feet banged on the first flight of stairs. ‘I’m coming, you OK?’
On the kitchen table, as if waiting to be filed, was a sheet of A4 paper in a clear, plastic poly pocket. It wasn’t mine. I snatched it up. Across the page, in glued lettering cut from newspapers, were the words: CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW.
It’s because she works on your senses with all those succinctly provocative physical descriptions that the psychological impact, when it comes, is so powerful. The first time I read those paragraphs, my skin tingled.
Film makers would kill for that kind of reaction. The scene could in fact work very well on film. It has another ingredient that screen writers like to sprinkle into their work, which is foreshadowing. Those ditsy gingham curtains are not just damp and fluttering because they are exposed to the hidden dangers of the darkness outside. They are flags of surrender.
Surrender is one of the novel’s key themes. In this respect it has a lot in common with Kristina’s earlier novel, Asking For Trouble, which was hugely popular and sold very well. But Thrill Seeker goes deeper and hits harder than the earlier book. In some respects it is more serious. I think it really stretches the limits of the genre. It’s about surrender but it’s also about being honest with yourself and finding what you want. And for this you need to be tough enough not to give in to another kind of constraint – the constraint of public opinion.
Natalie has the courage not to surrender to the censures of society but to surrender instead to her sexual cravings. She is a strong woman who likes to be dominated and abused. Like her predecessor in Asking For Trouble, she does not believe in compromise. There are no safe words for her. Where is the thrill in danger if you know it’s not real? She likes to go to the very knife-edge of consensual sex. She doesn’t so much flirt with danger as issue an open invitation to the worst possible kind of sexual pervert to seize her and do his worst.
This is probably not every woman’s idea of a romantic story. “Plenty of people out there think that what I’m doing is ridiculous or wrong,” moans Natalie. And I must admit that I am not, like Natalie, turned on by “arrogance, ingratitude and disdain.” I do not enjoy being sexually degraded. For me, therefore, there was a distance between the pleasures I seek and some of the the sexual activities depicted in the story.
Then I started to wonder, Do we really want men reading this stuff? Do we want them to think women really have these kind of fantasies? When there are real sexually-motivated horrors emerging every other day in the newspapers, do we really want to give men this kind of licence to do their worst under the misguided impression that they are giving us what we really want?
But that is partly the subject matter of this book, that very serious social issue. It is not an irresponsible book. It’s a very serious one.
And as a writer, everything Kristina does is spot on. The writing is so taut and controlled that I was fixated on it, unable to look away. The sex, of course, is sometimes gratuitous. The descriptions are long, lingering and detailed. All well and good, you might think, but what about the characters? Well, the characters are true to themselves. The dangers escalate and the climax has a dizzy inevitability. This is not a how-to manual for BDSM neophytes. Natalie is no role model for the internet dating generation. But this is an important, exciting and provocative book that really throws down the gauntlet for anyone wanting to take up the challenge of writing a BDSM thriller and says, “Top that!”
And, in her next book, if rumours are to be believed, Kristina will do exactly that.
I can’t wait!