Sunday, July 27, 2008

OPEN: the special sealed section

Here it is, Legion of Fans (LOF), Mr Blog's take on what women want.

Normally, honesty would force me to stop this post right here and now, but as regular readers would be aware I have taken me a peek inside the world of secret women's business thanks to a new book out of Africa - 'OPEN, An Erotic Anthology by South African Women Writers', published by Oshun.

OPEN was sent to me by my friend (and fearless critic of my own rude scenes), Muriel (not her real name). Muriel is one of the famous South African writers who contributed to OPEN, though I will not reveal which one.

One thing I hate, LOF, is when newspapers and magazines get book reviewers who have absolutely no interest in or affinity with mass market fiction (ie the stuff I write) to review my books. I mean, I never get a chance to review deep and brooding literary masterpieces, so how come people who wear black skivvies and drink chai (whatever that is) get to poke fun at me?

So, not being South African, a woman, or a regular writer of literary erotica, I have absolutely no qualifications to review 'OPEN'. I will, however give you my observations, as a middle aged white Australian male (and writer of "better-than-average airport novels" with "cliched" sex scenes) regarding this slim but perfectly formed tome.

I must begin by saying that even after finishing the 19 tales contained in OPEN I still have no more idea about what women want (in relation to what Gary McDonald as TV's Norman Gunston used to describe as "funny business") than when I started.

Judging by the variety of subject matter, styles, and differing approaches to the mine-strewn area of rude words, the only conclusion I can draw is that different women want different things in their porn (oops, I mean literary erotica). This realisation, in itself, was pleasing to me.

Some of the stories are soft and sweet... long, slow, beautifully-spun yarns about unrequited longing that contain barely a pulse of what a man would consider to be.... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Oops, sorry, where was I? Oh, yes. A couple of these stories are so layered and spongy that Mr Blog found himself nodding off on the bus a couple of times (not a good look to be sprung by a fellow passenger with an open book of erotica dangling from one limp hand a long strand of silvery drool linking lips to trousers, I can assure you).

Ken Follett (who is, like, the God of the airport novel writers) once wrote something like this: "If you have to read a sentence twice to understand it, then it's no good". One or two of OPEN's entries were so artfully written and so purple in their prose that I needed to read passages two or three times (and still couldn't understand them).

However... and this is a big however, because I think that the majority of the writings in OPEN are just brilliant, on several occasions I found myself re-reeading certain sections (and stories) simply becasue they were, ahem, so very good (and I am speaking here, of course, purely in relation to matters of literary merit, rather than subject matter. Yeah, right).

Along with the stories of an ethereal, gentle and vaguish nature (as far as blokes are concerned), there is no shortage of wham, bam, thank-you ma'am (may I have another) stuff in OPEN.

Yes, chaps, rest assured that some gels like their rumpy pumpy with a fair dollop of how's-your-father and pardon-me-vicar on top.

Between OPEN's tasteful covers you'll find a fare sprinkling of naughty words, actions, bits, and what Mr Eddy Murphy once described as in-your-end-oh. More than enough, in fact, to, errr, satisfy what I might dare class as stereotypical 'male' preconceptions of the artform.

A friend of mine, PK, is a big reader and likes my books, except for two things. "TP," he said to me once, "I wish you didn't use swear words or put sex scenes in your books. John Grisham doesn't have sex or swearing in his books and that's why I really like his stuff."

I had to thank PK at that point. I'd read a couple of Grisham books many years ago and could never get into his stuff. I could never put my finger on what I didn't like about them, until it dawned - no funny business and no rude words. I'm a big fan of both - in real life and in fiction, so I was pleased to see some parts of OPEN left little to the imgaination.

OPEN has infidelity, fidelity, fantasy, a bit of the ol' slap-and-tickle (as Mrs Blog calls it), and a dash (deary me, I almost said lick) of Lesbianism, proving my oft-laboured point that girls can get away with writing girl-on-girl stuff, but male middle-aged mass market fiction writers' editors won't let them.

If I have to pick favourites I would single out the following - in no particular order:

Die Nutsman: This does not mean 'death to crazy or large-testicled man'. Die Nutsman is Afrikaans for The Handyman. This handy man has a habit of appearing just when the lady of the house needs him most. Clever premise and cleverly written, by Helen Brain.

Taking Zoe to Play: If boys were allowed to read/write Mills and Boon romance novels, then this is how we'd want it/write it. In just a few pages Elizabeth Pienaar creates a mini upper middle class universe populated by Porshe-driving people with exotically improbable names and steamily-revealed back-stories. The, ahem, climax takes place on a 'play date'. While the kids are outside on the swings the grown ups are getting up to a bit of swinging inside. No holds barred in this Dirty Dallas.

The Boy Next Door: Tracey Hawthorne, the fact that you got me steamed up with a tale about a lady peeking through the fence slats at a neighbouring youth taking matters into his own hands speaks volumes about your way with words. (I hope). Slow build up, big finish, and even a cigarette at the end. This is how it should be done and the peeping Toms of the world salute you.

Seven Saucy Smokelong Stories: If you've ever felt a little unease at some mildly kinky thought or practice you may have considered/practiced/fantasised about... read these stories. They will make you feel positively vanilla. Liesl Jobson whips it, and whips it good.

Dawn Garisch's tale 'The Wedding Feast' about a bored lady and a balding middle-aged man at a wedding party proves that balding middle-aged men (such as myself) should read more women's erotica.

So attuned is she to what men want, Sarah Lotz should be writing the letters in men's magazines. Her 'Personal Shopper' story reveals what Trinny and Susannah really should be getting up to behind the curtain.

Reprise, by Mary Watson is about an old married couple reprising. It actually made me go "Awww" (as in "awww isn't that nice"). By this stage I realised that I was getting way too much in touch with my feminine side (and I didn't even know I had one), so I re-read a couple of the really dirty bits of the book, reaffirmed my masculinity, and closed OPEN.


ali g said...

Great review! Wow you really must have liked it about the SA ladies stuff. No sooner finished reading OPEN and you've flown back to Africa.

Helen Brain said...

Thanks for a great review. I wrote 'Die Nutsman' and it took a lot of serious research, remembering which power tools were suitable for which stage in the fantasy. I had to practice a lot.
I agree with you about the 'literary' stories. Too thought out, too self conscious. And ever since Tracey Hawthorne's filthy story about the teenager wanking next door I've been lurking near the garden fence hoping to get lucky. Sadly, an elderly Muslim widow lives there...

noddy said...

Excellent Review

P.S. Please post back in a brown nondescript envelope addressed to:
Funky Earls Music Heaven
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