A publishing sensation upon its original publication in France, Catherine Millets The Sexual Life of Catherine M
is one of the most sexually explicit books ever written by a woman. Ostensibly a semi-autobiographical account of the sexual life of the author, the editor of an influential Parisian art magazine, the book is a frank and detailed account of Millets development from an awkward, guilt-ridden Catholic teenager to sophisticated Parisian intellectual and enthusiastic member of the singles bars, orgies and public sex spaces of Paris.
The book has no sequential narrative. Instead, it offers a frank and extremely graphic celebration of the pursuit and gratification of sex. Millet praises the virtues of anonymous sex, admitting that "I can account for forty-nine men whose sexual organs have penetrated mine and to whom I can attribute a name or, at least, in a few cases, an identity. But I cannot put a number on those that blur into anonymity". Nevertheless, she proceeds to offer page after page of exhausting descriptions of sexual couplings in groups in houses, car parks, offices, toilets, museums--the list and the permutations are endless, as are Millets descriptions of her own sexual organs and her ability to perform oral sex. Millet wants to celebrate the personal freedom and physical pleasure that casual, anonymous sex offers a woman, but this is never fully explored beyond her assertion that "the certainty that I could have sexual relations in any situation with any willing party" was "the lungfuls of fresh air you inhale as you walk to the end of the pier". Much of the books language is equally prosaic. Ultimately, this is a book about sexual fantasy, but as Millet herself admits, "sexual fantasies are far too personal for them ever really to be shared". Millet is too busy describing the literal nuts and bolts, the grunts and bumps of (resolutely heterosexual) sex to produce eroticism on a par with her obvious models, Pauline Reages Story of O and Georges Batailles Story of the Eye, which leaves The Sexual Life of Catherine M feeling rather naughty, but strangely dated.--Jerry Brotton
--This text refers to the
From Publishers Weekly
Millet, art critic and editor of Art Press, has become a literary sensation in France with the publication of this graphic memoir of some 30 years of her sexual adventures. Millet's "gift for observation" and her "solid superego" are as useful in her career as an art critic as they are in her erotic explorations: her ability to concentrate and observe puts her inside "other people's skins." Comparisons have been made to The Story Of O, but Millet is more in the tradition of Jean Genet and Violette Leduc, whose descriptions of their sexual encounters were not meant to titillate so much as to explore the meaning of the erotic. Millet's "quest for the sexual grail" takes her to group orgies, gang bangs in French parks and other serial sex escapades. Before long, the sex begins to seem utterly routine, in spite of the elaborate staging. Millet and her readers are then free to consider more closely some questions she raises: how oral sex compares to vaginal intercourse; why sex in disgusting circumstances is not about "self-abasement," but raising oneself "above all prejudice"; or why solitary sex is more pleasurable for her than sex with a partner. Toward the end of this curiously graceful memoir, Millet comes close to explaining her need for all this sex: only by sloughing off the "mechanical body" she'd been born with could she experience actual sexual pleasure. While women readers will find much of interest, male readers may have to overcome a certain emperor's new clothes-type discomfort, as they realize that Millet may know more about the male body than they do.
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