Hello, all – After a brief July hiatus, Kinked Ink is back for its monthly look at what books (or film, or art) make writers of erotica tick. This month, I asked the amazing Emmanuelle de Maupassant—author of two notable books (one of which I have reviewed), numerous short stories, and a remarkable, recently-completed series of online articles based on questionnaires sent to over 150 erotic authors—to discuss her favorite kinky books. As with all things Emmanuelle, the results were thoughtful, engaging, and, yes, kinky:
Reading Erotic Fiction
Fiction allows us to explore all the ‘what ifs’ within the safety of the page. It presents conflict, and shows us how protagonists react. Meanwhile, we, readers, are more than passive watchers; we engage and ‘judge’, deciding how we feel about the choices made, as characters struggle with moral ambiguities. Of course, in so doing, we reflect on our own behavior, our choices and motivations.
Erotic fiction does just the same, while using our sexual nature as the lens. It has the scope to take us towards not only what we find arousing but what we find unsettling: places of vulnerability, compulsion, obsession and dangerous behavior. We live ordered lives but we know that, within us, we hold the potential to be ‘disordered’. In exploring the sexual psyche, it’s interesting to travel into shadowy, secret places: those we keep hidden. We are full of contradictions: in what we profess, and in what we conceal.
Sexual obsession is intriguing on the page, seeing characters ‘disrupted’ by desire, driven by extreme yearning (much in the style of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights). Joseph Kessel’s elegant housewife Séverine does so in Belle de Jour (the film most people know from Catherine Deneuve’s performance). Her compulsion to degrade herself (wishing to submit to men who are not only strangers to her but who repulse her) makes no sense to Séverine, but nor can she ignore it. The fascination for me is in her knowledge that her behavior places her at risk, yet her helplessness to resist. Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina share a similar theme of emotional self-destruction in seeking out the elusive ‘more’: our (sexual) yearning for what we cannot articulate, and which can never be adequately fulfilled.
Josephine Hart’s Damage provides another good example of surpassing ‘reasonable’ limits. Cabinet minister Fleming is ready to cast aside everything that others would say gives his life meaning (his marriage, his career, his relationship with his children, and his son’s happiness) to pursue his erotic infatuation. His affair with his son’s fiancée, Anna, is an awakening and a dream-state, a loss of self to the intoxication of desire, and a finding of the self.
He describes ‘the emerging skeleton beneath my skin… as though a man’s bones broke through… [and] he stalked through his midnight life towards the first day.’ Fleming is in the grip of what he knows will destroy him, and we abhor the choices he makes. Yet, we see that he is powerless. Josephine Hart shows us that, however sane and ordered our life, we carry our own destructive flame, the potential for our own acts of ‘damage’.
In terms of style, I’m engaged by originality, and by powerful prose. I have huge admiration for Jonathan Kemp. His Twenty-six is a series of sexual vignettes, lush and dazzling. His use of language is a triumph, yet one of the recurring themes of the book is the inability of language to sufficiently express sexual yearning:
‘There are places only the night knows, places only shadows can show us… I walk… looking for something, looking for something, looking for something… Forgive me for not having the words to describe it, this place in which I dwell. I have tried, I have tried. I have drenched myself in words and sensations, seeking a way to make them speak to one another. This is all I have to offer.’
Explicit and, often, disturbing, he leads the reader into a realm of dark paradoxes: our need for isolation and for connection, and our desire for intense physical experience and for oblivion. Kemp celebrates the raw, terrifying beauty of sexuality, showing its capacity to ‘speak a different tongue’.
Kemp, like Jeanette Winterson, in her Written on the Body, portrays our human state as that of a pulsing archive, memories ‘rippling beneath the skin’. Kemp achieves similar mastery in his London Triptych, probing words for their secrets, for their ‘blood-beat’. He searches for ‘meaning held within the contours of the skin’, to express the erotic truths of the body, the ‘cannibal, animal hunger’ of desire, the ‘universal language of lust written on the body and spoken by the eyes and fingers’.
Many writers shy away from metaphor and poetic prose, believing that they’ll alienate readers rather than conveying deeper meaning. Kemp has no such fear, using imagery with lavish abandon. His prose is intoxicating: ‘This is for when the blood turns black and burns you from the inside, for when you get the hunger – feel it unravelling within its long, dark spine of want…’ (Twenty-six)
There are many authors who inspire me, for their daring as well as their skill, for seeking innovative paths. Often, this isn’t so much about what an author focuses upon as how they do so. However, there are certain themes which I find pull me back: the nature of madness, our search for freedom, our inclination towards self-destruction and torment, and our capacity for violence. I often find that these naturally ally with the erotic.
I’m a regular visitor to the online sites of Malin James, Adrea Kore and Remittance Girl, who present insight into our sexual psyche, achieving this through beautifully crafted prose. Every sentence counts.
Emmanuelle de Maupassant is the author of Cautionary Tales and The Gentlemen’s Club.
Read more from her via www.emmanuelledemaupassant.com.
You can find her on Amazon here,
or follow what she’s reading on Goodreads.