Wednesday 27 May 2009

The Story of the Story of O

What can I say about The Story of O other than it is a tour de force, in my view one of the best novels, certainly the best erotic novel, ever written, all the more remarkable because the author was woman.

Anne Desclos, who went by the pen-name of Pauline Réage, has the most incredible style; tight, angular, and translucent; every word seems to count. I read the novel as a dark existential fairy-tale, one in which the subject achieves the purer form of freedom, or self-liberation, in a process of becoming an object for the pleasure of others.

It’s about desire, yes, and cruelty in desire; but it’s about so much more. I had to read it three times before I fully absorbed all of the complex subtleties that Desclos explores, all of the nuances of meaning, the contrasts of light and dark. It’s not a book for everyone, and some people-failing to read below the surface-are likely to find it highly unsettling.

O has an interesting history, written, in essence, to prove a point. Jean Paulhan, Desclos’ lover, admired the work of the Marquis de Sade, telling her that no woman could write the kind of texts in which he specialised. Taking up the challenge Desclos created a work that is better, and far better, than anything ever written by that verbose and flowery aristocrat. :))

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