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Sexual Life of Catherine M. [Hardcover]

Catherine Millet
2.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 1 2002
Called "a fantastic breakthrough into the dark content of female desire" (France-Soir), The Sexual Life of Catherine M. was the literary success of the year in France, selling over 300,000 copies and becoming the most controversial book on sexuality since The Story of O. Catherine Millet, the prominent editor of Art Press, has led an extraordinarily active and free sexual life -- from alfresco encounters in Italy to a gang bang on the edge of the Bois du Boulogne to a high-class orgy at a chichi Parisian restaurant. A graphic account of a life of physical gratification, the book is also a relentlessly honest look at the consequences of sex stripped of sentiment -- including the joys and sorrows of her open marriage -- and a completely fearless unmasking of the fallacies we cling to and the often shocking, sometimes disturbing truths of female sexuality. The French press was equally admiring and appalled by Millet's daring, but Le Nouvel Observateur certainly spoke for them all when it wrote, "Sex is this woman's continent, which she explores tirelessly. No one has ever described it like this." Now American audiences will have the opportunity to take home Catherine M. "This is the most explicit book about sex ever written by a woman." -- Edmund White "[Her] aloof, gracefully crystalline style is as elegant as any French pornography since Sade." -- Francine du Plessix Gray, Vogue "[A] stylistic tour de force recounting three decades of sexual exploits ... This book's pleasures are first and foremost literary." -- Saul Anton, Bookforum "[Millet] relates her sexual life without trembling, and allows us to share her pleasures." -- Daniel Bougnoux, Le Monde

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Product Description

From Amazon

A publishing sensation upon its original publication in France, Catherine Millet’s 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 Millet’s 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 Millet’s 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 book’s 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 Reage’s Story of O and Georges Bataille’s 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 Paperback edition.

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.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I read this entire book over the course of a transatlantic airline flight. From cover to cover, with interuptions in order to choose between "chicken or beef" and watch The Hulk two times running.
If I said I'd bought it to be titillated, I'd probably be missing the point. Which is a good job, really, because I found it about as erotic as an episode of Antiques Roadshow.
If I said I'd bought it for it's literary merits, and the enthusiastic praise on the back of the book, I'd be closer to the mark. The promised sex was just a bonus.
But, sadly, I was disappointed on both counts.
This is a book detailing, in explicit, but not remotely arousing detail, the prodigious sexual exploits of Catherine Millet. From the first time she had group sex, not long after she lost her virginity, to anonymous orgies in carparks in Bois de Boulogne, all of the details are written down in cold, clinical detail which makes them about as erotic as a pathology report.
Catherine M is thusly hailed as a pioneer, breaking apart gender stereotypes. She makes it very clear throughout the book that she's in the driving seat of her sexual life. Saying that, however, I really disagree with this idea.
One of the most obvious things one notices reading the book is the cold, clinical nature of Catherine's adventures. She really doesn't seem to gain any pleasure from any of these adventures. The results of her promiscuity, such as an STD and, later, an abortion, are described in throwaway detail as if they were as mundane an event as brushing her teeth.
I'm not sure if this is because of lacklustre translation (I wouldn't mind getting a copy of the original next time I'm in Paris)or simply because Catherine M is a cold, clinical woman.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Just as dull as they said it would be. July 2 2003
By A Customer
This is one of the most tedious books I have ever read. I like vulgarity and a healthy appetite for lots of sex as much as the next man. I looked forward to reading an intelligent woman writing about her extraordinary appetite for group sex in public and private places.
However , this book is muddled , vague, unfocused and downright dull.Maybe it's the translation but I suspect it was pretentious in French and has not changed much in translation.
How someone who is(was?) the editor of a French art magazine could write such dreary stuff I do not know.
It has no colour, no humour, no pace, no joie de vivre, nothing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The unapologetic pursuit of pleasure Aug. 2 2002
Catherine Millet is a successful French art critic. She remembers her Catholic childhood. She had a lively inner life, kept scrapbooks, and as an adult has led an unusual and enthusiastic sexual life. She has been in favor of men of all shapes, nationalities, classes, colors, ages, and sizes occupying her body (if not her mind) for a few moments, an evening, or an entire relationship. But this book is not about "relationships." Think of these four essays ("Numbers," "Space," "Confined Space," and "Details") as theory and criticism - not of art, but of desire and pleasure -rather than confession or apology. She's very smart, and she is not showing off. The images are vivid. She observes and describes an enormous variety of remembered sexual acts and subjective inner states. She deconstructs pleasure most satisfyingly. She explores the "why" of her pursuit, too. Millet lets readers in, but only if they are wise enough to read between the lines.
Millet the enthusiastic participant was appreciative of bodies, desire, and earthly pleasure. She wanted connection and intensity, and clearly she craved company. Male bodies and male desire - along with her own - were the way to get it. She explains right off that she is submissive. This is key to understanding her story. She underwent some pain in the service of her desires, too. There's no shame here; in fact, she is refreshingly accepting. She is calmly reflective regarding "dirty words," asserting that their use during anonymous sex serves " to fuse us all together and to accelerate the annihilation of the senses that we are all trying to achieve in those moments."
There emotion in her story, but it is screened at times, and it is unsoftened by love or romance, and free of guilt.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not at all erotic...nameless, faceless orgies. Feb. 1 2003
By A Customer
I bought this book in hopes of reading something liberated and erotic. In fact it is descriptions of orgy after orgy, no character building, no plot...who cares? This women degraded herself, left herself completely vulnerable to STD's and never describes any satisfaction she gets from these sordid endeavors.
I didn't even finish it, a waste of time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Boring and un-erotic June 12 2004
This book was talked up so much by so many people that I decided to pick it up.. much to my dismay. The writing is trite, the stories repetitive and not terribly interesting and the sexual encounters are completely overdone to the point of draining all of their eroticism. Reading and re-reading stories about orgies and illicit sex acts with no explanation, insight or (at least) craft of writing is just boring. Not worth your time. If you're looking for interesting erotica, try some Anais Nin.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Prepare to hit the "Snore" button Jan. 11 2004
By A Customer
Many great authors in history have described the joys, pains, and amusement of certain culinary delights, from grand discussions of the skills of master chefs to the discomfort caused by atrocious cuisine, producing beautiful and poignant linguistical treats for their readers.
Then there are authors who have written, "I went to Burger World, had the large fries, the guy behind the cash register scratched his nose, I couldn't believe the girl in the next line was wearing that shade of nail polish in public, etc"...
Catherine M. falls into the second category...I'm no prude, and nothing that she has done is particularly shocking. If you don't believe me, talk to any vice cop in a major US city about prostitution and crack cocaine (same body count, but cash is exchanged).
In the hands of another author the material might have actually been interesting, but Cathy seems determined to reduce every sexual experience to the lowest common (and boring) denominator...the book just drags and drags and drags and drags...everything that has been said in previous reviews is correct. Sex in this book is about as exciting as filling out tax forms.
One final note...anyone who has ever worked at a REAL magazine as an editor, under the pressure to meet deadlines, deal with recalcitrant authors, proofs, reviews, etc., will have a difficult time recognizing the atmosphere at the PlayLand magazine that employs Cathy. Cathy apparently has unbelievable amounts of free time to play, play, and play some more, uncomplicated by work expectations. Wish I could find a job that lucrative and undemanding.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Simply About Sex. - Be prepared to ask yourself questions.
Please do not think this is solely a sex book. It is a serious story from a woman who gives thought about her sexual expression. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Ted W.
1.0 out of 5 stars Make it stop
Blech. I hardly tolerated this and honestly never finished reading for fear of contracting something that requires medication. Read more
Published 23 months ago by M0nica
1.0 out of 5 stars The BORING Life of Catherine M.
This book was so monotonous I couldnt even finish it. So what, she let a lot of guys f*** her, you can go to your local swingers club and see that. ZZZZZZZZZZZ, put me to sleep. Read more
Published on May 24 2004 by blackkit10
1.0 out of 5 stars Numbingly dreary
Millet's sexual life is just a rambling catalogue of sexual acts. She is fooling herself if she thinks she is revolutionary or shocking. Read more
Published on Jan. 6 2004
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't buy it.
I quit reading at fifty pages. I was bored. She blips from one story to the next and none of it has a point. Read more
Published on Dec 16 2003
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't waste your money and time!
I was so bored that I couldn't be bothered to read more than one third of this book. I expected much more - liberating female writing, passion, pleasure. Read more
Published on Nov. 26 2003 by TJ
1.0 out of 5 stars Do something else with your time
I was very disappointed by this book. It lacks inspiration or any sort of structure or organization. It sounds more like fever-induced random ramblings which often refer to orgies. Read more
Published on Oct. 19 2003
1.0 out of 5 stars I don't see why she wrote this at all
In the afterword, which I flipped to after about the first chapter, Catherine M attempts to answer the question, "Why would you want to write a book about this? Read more
Published on July 20 2003
1.0 out of 5 stars Sex-less Sex
I like a good work of erotica as much as the next red-blooded American boy, and, believe me, this ain't one of them. Read more
Published on June 30 2003 by Thomas M. Sullivan
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