What are we NOT reading at Polari HQ this week?
I confess: I read (okay, skimmed) the first 100 pages in the first book in the trilogy. I wanted to know what had made the “S&M lite” books by E.L. James so popular. But I couldn’t take anymore, and there were two main reasons for that.
The first is that the book was poorly written. I’m not immune to popular writing or genre fiction, but I do like all literature, no matter the genre, to be well written and to show a good grasp of grammar and syntax. Alas, James’ book simply didn’t fit the bill.
But the second, and more important, reason is that the storyline is problematic and goes against my feminist beliefs. The main character, a university student who has never had a boyfriend and who doesn’t realise how beautiful and intelligent she is, falls for a multi-millionaire businessman. He makes her sign a contract before they can embark on a relationship, so she agrees to keep herself in shape, to get waxed regularly, to dress as he wishes, and to generally do what he tells her to do. She willingly gives up her power and independence to him.
In short, it’s as though feminism never happened. Because, you know, all women really want is to have a man tell them what to do. Sure, many people enjoy BDSM and power play. But the books suggest that having a man as a master is all that women want or need.
So no thanks. In this case, I prefer black and white to grey.
Andrew Darley – A Boy’s Own Story by Edmund White
Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story is consistently cited as a pivotal piece in gay literature. So this last summer I finally got my hands on a copy from my local library. Sexual discovery & identity is one of my favourite themes in literature and I braced myself for one of the best explorations of the subject. Sadly, what I found in between the covers was a character that I found painful. He is self-obsessed and it’s impossible to identify with his narcissistic observations. I picked up an anniversary edition of the book, and it opened with an introduction from the author that was equally self-serving. It is extremely rare that I leave a book unfinished – but it just had to be done in this case. The more I read, the louder a mantra formed in my head: “This is the type of man I need to avoid in life …”.
Christopher Bryant – Lancelot And The Wolf by Sarah Luddington
I started reading the book because of the recent furore over homophobic comments about the plot on its Amazon page. The relationship between Lancelot and Arthur was a problem for the hardcore Arthur mythologists, it seemed, and in blind panic a nerd-torrent of abuse followed. The LGBT online press reported this without question, of course, and so I decided to take a look at the book itself because in the rush to get the story out before the competitors, none of them had.
Amazon were, oddly, offering a Kindle edition of the book for £0.00, and so I downloaded it to my iPad. One chapter in I was glad I didn’t pay money for it. The writing is terrible. There’s no skill at work, just a litany of cliches thrown together with a confusing and unconvincing sex scene thrown in. Luddington cannot do character, and so the prostitute whom Lancelot bangs, serves as a device to show what Lancelot’s character is capable of, all managed with awkward and unconvincing dialogue.
It seems to me that the publisher decided to capitalise on the furore and garner press attention for the book. And the online LGBT press obliged, basking in the righteous reaction to homophobia, and not for one minute seeing that this was little more than parish pump about a book that should, by all account, be ignored.