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Anyone expecting some raunch, or a discussion about that book, can move along. Not even a pantone in grey. The only conjunctions here are grammatical.

I haven’t read that particular book. I do not intend to either. By several reports it seems poorly written; almost a pedigree for demotic acclaim. But that aside, the dirtiest book I have read was Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom and that was years ago. Incredibly boring and disgusting – and, like Beckett who read it for a translation gig once – I did marvel at the elaborate quality of the fantasy and the geometrical necessity of so much as a prerequisite to fulfill the final objective. However, trudging through someone else’s idea of bone tingling ecstasy is not mine.

The first known instance of erotica being purchased (in England and in English literature) was by Samuel Pepys. In his diary on 13th January 1668 he says he saw a book for his wife to translate: (Elizabeth Pepys was seven years younger than Samuel and he mentored her education) and once he read it his reaction turned because, “it was the most bawdy, lewd book that ever I saw.” He didn’t buy it. On February 8th he went to his bookseller and, “bought the idle, rogueish book, “L’escholle des filles;” which I have bought in plain binding, avoiding the buying of it better bound, because I resolve, as soon as I have read it, to burn it.” On 9th February (a Sunday) he went to his office “doing business, and also reading a little of “L’escholle des filles,” which is a mighty lewd book, but yet not amiss for a sober man once to read over to inform himself in the villainy of the world.” That is a fine piece of self-justifying reasoning. Later that day he went to his chamber, read it again, then burned it “that it might not be among my books to my shame.

If he’d had a Kindle that ending could have been avoided. Although he burned the book, the evidence remained, as he never counted on his diary code being cracked. The shame, all the same, is known.

From Pepys to now the mixture of excitement and guilt with this type of writing is inseparable. It seems that thrill and guilt must be joined together, at least in Western cultures.

I did attempt this type of story once. Weekend was a story about two lovers who meet for two days of romance and it’s told from the view of the male. The central idea was to tell a romance not through the head or the heart, as often occurs in love stories or even erotic fiction; but as skin and bone and appetites. Those elements are the qualities at the base of every relationship: the appearance of a person, their height; shape of the face; arms, the waist and so on; what they do and eat and drink. I called it a materialistic love story, a story about what people did with each other as if it could all be quantified, and nothing in it was metaphorical.

Its candor was shocking to some and led to a bit of misunderstanding. I learnt that such fiction is not dangerous but the model that we have of how love or sex should be conducted (at least in public) is from a restrictive template. When things veer outside that restriction it may work commercially but not too far; to go as far as de Sade – that is truly hazardous.

Guy Cranswick
13 July 2012

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