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Story of O was so beautifully written that this alone should’ve been enough to give it literary credibility.
I recently read the 1954 infamous, mysterious and controversial short novel by French author Pauline Réage.
When it was published, the book caused a considerable upheaval. Nobody knew who wrote it. Nobody knew what to say and how to approach it, so they did the worst thing—they labeled it wrongly as pornography. The theme was sexual submission, a highly improper issue in the times of post-WWII propriety, and unbending moral values.
Why the pornography tag persisted for decades is beyond comprehension. Story of O was so beautifully written that this alone should’ve been enough to give it literary credibility.
The movie from the 1970’s based on the book, which I did watch, fascinated me on a superficial level, although I didn’t find any true value in it. I don’t know enough about the art of film to prove it. But thanks to it, I neglected to read the book. It is pornography, after all, isn’t it?
It’s not. It’s a masterpiece.
Even to say that Story of O is an erotic novel, let alone pornographic, would be wrong. Story of O is many things but foremost an allegory, a probe into the subject of human submissiveness and dominance on the absolute level, not just sexual. S/D is one of the basic human relationships, after all. Most of us are submissive to some (your boss, your military superior, your parents, partners…) and dominant over some others (the people we supervise at work, our children, our partners). Most of these S/D relationships are considered normal. They are sanctioned by law, customs, habits, regulations. They’re deeply rooted in our psychology. This is the way we function—socially, emotionally, biologically.
What is submission? Dominance in disguise?
Pauline Réage throws us a challenge by taking this natural order of things to an extreme level and presenting us with (some of) the possible consequences.
How far are we ready to go? Where is the line? Can human isolation and loneliness be so profound that some of us can’t find ourselves within us but only within another human being? Where we stop being us and become someone else? (Can I live if living is without you?) How far would the other person go to dominate us, and what kind of need does he/she have to fulfill through dominance?
What is submission then? Dominance in disguise? And vice versa.
It opens many other questions–of freedom, freedom of choice, absence of love, perception of love, alienation… name it.
Story of O had two endings, cleverly interwoven in the last paragraph/epilogue. Pauline Réage leaves it to us to chose how to conclude her story in our imagination.
But which ending did she chose? For some reason, it was important to me to know. (Once someone asked Margaret Mitchell what happened to Scarlet O’Hara after Reth Butler had left. She became a better woman, Mitchell said, but she never had him back. I always find this interesting.)
Story of O will always make me feel uneasy. Like every great book should.
I didn’t get it right away. So indefinitely sad was I for days that I couldn’t see it. I felt the same heartbreaking sorrow as after reading some other ‘small books’: Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx, or Anna, Sorror by Margaret Yourcenar, or Embers by Sandor Marai. Masterpieces often come in small packages indeed. I actually really like Story of O in the above mentioned company of powerful small books. It is its right place.
Then, only days after I read Story of O, I stumbled upon (and isn’t that fascinating!) another small literary gem, Anne Rice’s The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty. Anne Rice, whose story is based on Story of O, understood Pauline Réage’s novel so well that she was able to give us the definitive answer to that question with her own ending. And yes, we chose the same one, Pauline Réage, Anne Rice and I. It helped my sadness to disappear, although Story of O (as well as The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty) will always make me feel uneasy. Like every great book should.
Decades after being published, Story of O continues to inspire writers, albeit with various success. The wildly popular Fifty Shades saga was also inspired by it, but it’s like a glass imitation of a genuine diamond. Or, if you like, a McDonald’s Happy Meal in comparison to the finest foie gras on a toasted French baguette, to stay close to the geographical origins of the novel.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that one of my favourite pop fiction authors, Sylvia Day, wrote an introduction to one of the latest editions of Story of O. Her insight is interesting—yet another facet of this phenomenally complex novel.
About the terrific Sylvia Day perhaps some other time. I’ll be back to the topic of erotica as well. There are four erotic novels that I’ve been madly in love with for years…
If you wondered if I’d abandoned my website–I haven’t. I have a valid excuse for my absence. I had a complicated eye surgery, couldn’t read or use the computer for several weeks. That sucked, more than my bloodshot eye.
In the meantime, Once Upon a Night flew the nest. Back in April, I offered it for free through Voracious Readers Only. Since then, I’ve received more than 200 requests for downloads.
It’s been the first time I’ve exposed any of my books to the general public. A strange, uncomfortable feeling, not unlike, for example, my private nightmare called public speaking.
It took some time for my book to gain momentum. Now I have many ratings and quite a few reviews, mostly on Goodreads, but some on Amazon as well. The overall response has been great. The most common complaint is that the stories are too short. Which I regard as a compliment anyway.
It wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea, naturally. One reader really really didn’t like that the main male character of the first story was officially still married. (When we meet him, he is legally separated). She had other complaints as well (to make it plain, she trashed it). But that’s fine. I think that the sentence:
“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
is the most idiotic one ever written. Many would disagree, though.
The same reviewer, however, honoured me with one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever gotten. She said she’d been able to get through the book because I had a beautiful writing style. I asked myself how many times I’ve read something I didn’t like just because someone had an exquisite style. Zero times. Zilch.
My. Beautiful. Writing. Style.
It’s fascinating how some readers like the same things that others don’t. One review was the mirror image of the above mentioned–she liked the book, but thought my writing needed polishing. One gave me a good review accompanied by two (or three?) stars. Some found the plot standard, for others it was intriguing. Some liked the structure, some didn’t; some found the two-sentence epilogues written as postscripts awkward, others loved them…
Some found in Once Upon A Night what I’d hoped my readers would. Some found entirely different angles to perceive it, surprising even me.
I’m still very nervous when I get a message that there is a new review. Goodreads is like dating sites–most are there to find a partner (the next read), but some have other intentions. So far, I’ve been lucky.
At the end of the day, what counts is that my book found its readers. I’ve gotten the privilege of sharing my word–and my words–with others.
What a feeling.
As for music for this time, how about Black Horse and a Cherry Tree?
I know almost nothing about how search engines work, except that almost everything is based on Algorithms (the word invokes so much awe in me that I spontaneously started writing it with a capital A), which I can’t make work for me no matter what I do.
It doesn’t surprise me, because, as I said, I have no clue what all this is about. I’m firing random shots, hoping to hit the targets. Or at least the right ones–authors, readers, writers, people with similar affiliations to mine– for I have no lack of wrong hits. Which does surprise me.
Travel sites, cosmetic sites, kitchen utensil sites, mental health sites… and the cherry on top, a bunch of porn sites have no problems finding my site. After that, it works like this: they all like a post or two and start following my blog, only to forget about me the moment when I, out of courtesy, return their ‘like’ and start following them. At first, I thought — why not. I like to travel. I understand the importance of mental health. I cook. On the other hand, travelers, cosmetic product users, people who have a thing for kitchen utensils–they all read, don’t they? Depressed, lonely and neglected souls too.
Perhaps, our reader base overlaps.
(I didn’t return the courtesy of liking/following those porn blogs; our worlds don’t overlap that much. I don’t pretend knowing anything about the reading habits of porn site users, but I doubt they’d flock to Amazon to buy my books. I’ll return to that porn incident later.)
Anyhow, after that initial ‘like’ and following, most of them never ‘liked’ my post again. In return, I get notifications every time they post something.
So my question to Algorithm is: How come the sites about books and writing can’t find me, but those unrelated to my ‘business’ can?
This being said, there is one nice–and relevant–website that’s been following The Red Cliffs Chronicles since August 2017. The author is a writer and photographer. I like her blogs, but her photographs, mostly black-and-white, are awesome. But along with two other authors, who are both my friends, no one else seems to be interested in my blogs, except when they need my ‘like’, or one more nominal follower. Why do they need it? Does having more visitors turns into more advertisers, and more clicks into profit?
Something similar and equally absurd happens with Facebook advertising. It’s inexpensive, so I thought why not try. Some of my paid posts reached over 3000-3500 people (these are huge numbers for me), all over the world. Some not even a few hundred. I tried different demographic combinations. The numbers varied, yet I still couldn’t figure out why.
What didn’t vary was the outcome. The number of reached FB users doesn’t turn into website clicks, Facebook likes, Amazon clicks and purchases.
Back to that porn site. One fine morning, I woke up to the rapid, multiple ‘pings’ announcing incoming e-mails. Ya-hoo! I peeked on my screen and saw no less than eight different sites liked… Alas. Not my blogs posts, but my replies to the comments. The all had generic icons and names staring with triple x.
I’m not against porn sites as long as whatever happens there includes consensual adults and consensual adults only, but how the hell did they find me, and why did they think it would benefit their ‘business’?
Worst of all, I couldn’t make those ‘likes’ disappear–remember, they liked my reply–unless I deleted them.
Now my web site looks even more unloved and lonely. Perhaps I should make it look like I’m in the business of selling kitchen utensils. Perhaps it would trick the Algorithm into connecting me with the writing/reading related sites. Perhaps…
Intertwining her novel’s plot with several distinctive threads – Norse mythology, folk tales and early medieval Christianity – Shelley Kassian creates a colorful tapestry: a story of a cursed nobleman and exiled princess, of dark and light, good and evil; a tale in which many things are not as they seem at the first glance.
Set in pseudo-medieval times, The Scarlet Mark is the first installment of the envisioned Odin Saga. The story is told from the limited point of view of the various characters, who move the plot forward taking turns in narrating it. From the main protagonists, Princess Scarlett and Lord Nicolai, to the evil queen-sorceress Cynara and Nicolai’s butler, to King Rickard and his first queen, Regana – everyone gets a chance to tell a part of the story, making it more intimate and adding to its dynamic. Continue reading
“How is it I can push through writing a +90,000-word book,” my friend wrote in her recent blog post, “but struggle with a 150-word back-of-the-book blurb?”
She isn’t alone. Many writers find writing a blurb challenging, myself included. Note that the above-mentioned fellow author and friend, JP McLean, wrote five very good books (The Gift Legacy I-V). I loved her novels, but of course I don’t remember their blurbs, although I believe they were decent.
I know another author, who, on the other hand, can come up with a good blurb in a matter of minutes. I envy her. It took me several days to write the blurb for my last novella, and I’m happy with it, but someone more blurb-talented would make it spectacular.
Would that hypothetical spectacular blurb trigger spectacular sales? Continue reading