Posts Tagged ‘erotic’
Whether modern or old, the edition of a book is important. I am very fussy and perhaps even sentimental about this. For me a book is a physical object to be cherished for its sheer physicality as much as for its sentiment and sense. My first choice for A Sentimental Journey is the Oxford World’s Classics edition edited by Ian Jack and Tim Parnell. I like the font and the discreet signalling of notes with a little superscripted circle.
This Oxford edition contains A Sentimental Journey and Other Writings. The Other Writings are a sickly sweet love journal to his sweetheart, an adroit satire on political games played by obscure churchmen and some surprising sermons on such topics as feasting, concubines and enthusiasm.
Of these, A Sentimental Journey is easily the best. It is far and away the best. It is incomparable. It is sublime.
You might wonder what a clergyman is doing writing so wittily and sentimentally about his erotic experiences in France and Italy. But it is his very respectability that makes his sentimentality so piquant.
Mr. Sterne’s observations are never crude. He is a world away from Tobias Smollet’s toilet humour. You are given hints and you must find out the erotic detail for yourself. You must feel it. That is what Mr. Sterne is so very good at, making you feel. You must imagine yourself as the gentleman sitting next to the fille de chambre on the big hotel bed as she carefully searches for, then reveals, the quilted satin and taffeta purse she has made to hold the coin you gave her. You must wonder what you would have done had you been the Marquesina in Milan who was pursued by such a charming and witty clergyman. Would you, like her, have let him into your carriage?
I know I would.
That glimpse he gives us of his erotic adventure in Milan is, unfortunately all we get of Italy. The French portion of his journey occupies volumes one and two and the journal ends abruptly in Savoy, with Turin no more than a twinkle on the horizon. The work is unfinished. And yet, you might say, it is exquisitely finished.
It is impossible to do justice to Mr. Sterne’s work in a brief summary because he is so very brief himself. For readers only familiar with Tristram Shandy, it is astonishing how concise he can be. He is so concise you have to read the whole work to appreciate its beauty. He has put so much into it and, at the same time, left so much out. It creates ripples in your mind and in your senses. It is tantalising. It is perfect.
It is, truly, a classic.
This novel was like an exotic cocktail. It went down very smoothly but had quite a kick. Its very strong storyline is helped by a trio of memorable characters and their sharp exchanges. I adored Lily. She is one of three narrators and I loved the sections where she took up the story. Her way of looking at the world and the language she used really drew me into her budding romance with Carson Bradley. It was like getting a long letter from a close friend. At times she seemed like more than a friend, because she doesn’t skimp on detail. She tells you all the juiciest bits and in the choicest language, so you feel you are right there with her, savouring every moment.
Carson was one of the other narrators. He was more business-like and brusque but the change of viewpoint worked very well. Quite often he’d reveal a completely different perspective on something Lily had just described. The effect would be to make you laugh or wince.
Carson is not without his weaknesses. Perhaps the most glaring of these is his ex, Bianca. Besides being the third narrator in the novel, she is a cold-hearted villain who schemes to destroy Carson’s relationship with Lily. These schemes become darker and more deadly as the story progresses.
The multiple viewpoints are handled expertly and give the story variety and pace. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute and couldn’t wait for bedtime so I could dive between the sheets again with Carson, Lily and even the evil Bianca. (There is an intriguing under-explored storyline in Bianca’s life.)
The action, I should say, is not entirely between the sheets, but it’s a story that’s best read in bed. Some of those juicy bits are simply too good to be wasted anywhere else. If ever a book deserved to be called erotic, it’s this one. In fact it’s the most erotic book I’ve read this year.
This is one book I’m ashamed to have by my bed. It is really trashy. Luckily the pink and taupe cover blends in with my bedding and can lie camouflaged on my duvet when my flatmate bursts in on me unexpectedly.
I mention it here only because there is one story that lifts it above the average. It is tucked away at the back so you might miss it. It’s called Zoe White and the Seven Whores.
I told you it was trashy.
This story is by Thomas S. Roche and, to be honest, it is not his best story. It is light and frothy. It reads like he dashed it off before his morning cappuccino. But he is one of my favourite authors because every sentence he writes either thrills me or makes me laugh.
Zoe White and the Seven Whores had me in stitches. I don’t usually laugh out loud when I’m reading but with this one I did and, what is worse, I was on my own.
Yes, I know.
I’m reluctant to recommend it. Humour is a very personal thing.
At the heart of this book is a story that involves a lot of bondage, torture, beating, sexual passion, near-nudity and paranormal phenomena.
Yes, as with so many things, the Chinese did paranormal BDSM centuries before the current craze sweeping America.
But, ironically, in this book the paranormal element is somewhat muted, which is the main reason Robert van Gulik thought it might be presentable in translation to Western readers.
I try to learn something practical from every book I read. The thing I learnt from this one is that it’s very hard to translate the Chinese word “neiyi” (undergarment), because it’s very unspecific even in Chinese.
When the suspect is stripped of all her clothes and left in only an “undergarment”, which happens on at least two separate occasions, I really want to know more. Which undergarment? Is it like a shift or is it only a pair of panties? Is it skimpy or conservative? Can you see through it?
Most readers would not want to picture the poor wretch strapped nearly naked to a mechanical device so that she can be beaten and racked. But I’m an erotic novelist. My interest is professional and dispassionate.
The end of the novel, which deals with the executions of all the wrongdoers, is much more explicit. But it’s a case of too little too late. Because of the earlier omissions, I’m afraid the text only gets 3 stars from me.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Robert Van Gulik is a fascinating man and this novel reflects many of his interests. It combines scholarly attention to detail with a flair for melodrama and the macabre. He was very knowledgeable about ancient China and took a deep interest in Chinese erotic art. This mystery story draws on ancient Chinese detective stories, of which he had made a special study, and is enlivened with many erotic allusions to tease the reader’s imagination. There are also a few action sequences featuring clever tricks and deft manoeuvres of the kind found in ancient Chinese literature such as Outlaws of the Marsh and Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
It is more ambitious than it seems on the surface. If you return to the first five pages after reading it all, you will discover that what is at first a confused and confusing preface is an attempt to create a story that has no beginning and no end, just as the opening epigraph suggests:
Only Heaven that wrote the scroll of human life
Knows where its beginning is, and where its end—
If end there be.
It is, amongst other things, a ghost story, very much in the ancient Chinese tradition, and the drowned heroine of the story, to whom a monument is erected in honour of her brave and loyal actions, comes back to haunt with her seductive beauty, men who have evil in their hearts.
Unfortunately I don’t think the author’s craft matches his ambition. The novel is too crammed with incidents. The language is sometimes awkward. There is little or no character development. There is a lot going on but much of it is explained only after it has happened, which makes it difficult to become caught up in the action.
However, the Judge Dee stories, as far as I know, have no equivalent in English and I recommend them for anyone who likes exotic mysteries or is interested in China during the Ming Dynasty.
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