Sphere, £7.99, ISBN 978-0-7515-5158-7
Contemporary Erotica, 2013
Some column inches had been generated about how Sasha Grey spent a few years acting in adult films before moving into mainstream screens both big and small. This is her debut literary effort, and naturally, The Juliette Society has to be marketed in a manner that touts the author as the next EL James. The more accurate description is most likely “publishers and the author all hoping to make as much money as EL James”, since I doubt there are many authors who aspire to be exactly like EL James, but that kind of honesty is never marketable.
The Juliette this society is named for is one of two characters – sisters, the other’s Justine – conceived (if that’s the right word) by the Marquis de Sade, the 18th-century French nobleman, libertine, author and revolutionary whose sexual adventures so outraged the noblesse oblige of the French aristocracy that he was locked up in the Bastille for obscenity. Which, in retrospect, was a really bad move because, sitting there in his cell, with nothing better to do than jerk off day and night, the Marquis was stimulated to create even more and greater obscenities. Just to prove a point.
Oh yes, the signs are there: this book is to Fifty Shades of Grey as LSD is to M&M. EL James talks about tampon sex. Sasha Grey decides that tampons are for wimps – here, people, how about a drilldo? There are some sex scenes here that would make those sweet people, introduced to erotica by EL James, run screaming out of the room as if they were pursued by a bunch of horny Cenobites. This one has erotic asphyxiation, gang bangs, oral sex in seedy rooms, and even brushes with snuff. Corrupt decadence rules here, and the line between degradation and unbound pleasure is very fine indeed.
Our heroine, Catherine, discovers this as she lets Anna, a sexually adventurous woman whose sexual appetites seem to know no boundaries, lead her to places where no sexual fantasy is taboo. Well, that’s what the plot is supposed to be about, but this story is more like a rambling stream of consciousness. Catherine is telling the story to “you”, so her narrative is unstructured, prone to running off the rails into all kinds of tangents from art school theories to rants about corrupt politicians. And I have to say this: Catherine is crazy. Crazy in full glorious beautiful technicolor.
I think of all the billions of men ejaculating gazillions of spermatozoa simultaneously over images of Kim Kardashian’s digital ass.
I think, what a waste of good sperm.
What a waste of precious energy.
If only someone invented a way of tapping that energy at source. Or found a way to turn the billions of come-stiffened Kleenex tissues discarded daily into a source of fuel. If someone discovered how to do that, most of the world’s energy problems would be solved in a snap. No more wars for oil. No more carbon footprints. No more nuclear waste.
Brings a tear to the eye, doesn’t it? This is like the X-rated chemistry-powered dreams that compelled John Lennon to pen Imagine.
I like to tell him to come on my tits so I can smear it around in messy circles, the way a painter mixes paint on his palette. He is the paint. I am the painter and the canvas too. I like to paint with his come on my body so I can feel it dry, harden and contract, pinching the skin as it does. I like the way it flakes away in scales as I brush it. I like to hold a flake of his dried come on my finger and look at it the way you would look at a snowflake, trying to discern the crystalline pattern of nature within.
And this goes on for four pages. Four amazing insane-fantastic pages of Catherine waxing lyrical over every spurt and drop of you-know-what from you-know-what. This is awesome.
Early on, the author talks about how characters are often more important than the plot. She’s right when it comes to this book. The plot is pretty much the pits, but Catherine has a wonderful first person voice that is as entertaining as hell. She can ramble like a demented film school kid in love with her voice, but she’s amusing and ridiculous to the point that I can’t put down this book even if I want to.
The early parts of the book are entertaining but rather devoid of erotic moments that work. However, the later parts of the book can become quite, er, intriguing indeed. The scenes in question aren’t pretty or romantic, but this is why they work. The sexual elements here are coarse, vulgar, at times unhygienic – just the way they should be. That’s why readers who are looking for a Fifty Shades of Whatever Really clone here will most likely loathe this book. It’s everything that is not the books in EL James’s series.
My issue with this story is that, like many so-called art house films that purport to use sex scenes to justify its “edgy” and “daring” pretensions, The Juliette Society ends up condemning the very sexual anarchy that it claims to embrace and celebrate. The heroine’s sexual escapades are mostly confined to her imagination, and the one time she gives in to her desires ends up with her feeling degraded and used. She ends up embracing a conventional relationship with the very same boring guy that is unable to satisfy her sexually, and I’m supposed to believe that this relationship will work because… I don’t know. Because the one time she tried to broaden her sexual horizons, she ended up in an orgy at Bates Mansion? This is like me saying that I tried to eat chicken only to almost choke to death on a bone so I’ll eat tofu forever, thank you very much. You may as well plant a sign saying “Settling for less – pathetic!” on Catherine’s head.
Oh, and naturally, the women who like the sexy nasty things – described in detail for my titillation – all end up punished for their sins. I guess the author believes that I can’t enjoy the sexy in this story unless all the sexy people end up dead or unhappy because my guilty conscience can’t accept anything else, and I will have to kill myself or Jesus will hate me forever.
The Juliette Society is too crazy and macabre not to be entertaining. It’s fantastic if one just embraces the crazy and goes with the flow. Just don’t expect this to be another typical erotica or, worse, another Fifty Shades of Oh When Will It All Stop clone – in fact, don’t expect anything other than sheer crazy – four pages of how amazing pee-pee cream is, remember? – and everyone will be happy.