Sunday, May 28, 2006

Is it possible to write a non-embarrassing 'erotic novel'? This afternoon I read Landscape with Animals by "Cameron S Redfern", which is a pseudonym for Sonya Hartnett, although Penguin still refuses to confirm this. We got a free review copy at the magazine, and everyone except me was too squeamish to claim it. The book had pretty wide margins and took about three hours to read.

Peter Craven, who wrote about Hartnett's last novel Surrender in gushingly positive terms ("she belongs to the handful of Australian writers who should command world attention ... If you read nothing else by an Australian this year, read Surrender"), wrote a fairly scathing review of Landscape with Animals in The Age. The tone is mainly of disappointment, as if a teacher's pet had let down the teacher.

Gah! That reminds me! At one stage in Landscape with Animals, the male protagonist's penis is described as straining for attention like a teacher's pet. I snickered with mortification. Other dreadful turns of phrase include describing the female protagonist's genitals as "like crustaceans" - please! anything else! - and also repeatedly using the term "flaps". The dialogue is very stilted and unconvincing, especially this stupid scene where they are taking an unspecified 'drug' and the guy feels "lordly thespian". That scene closed with the ripper line: "He had only to lift her shirt-tail..." Also, the 'animal' theme is hammered home in very unsubtle terms. Oh, speaking of hammering, I just remembered that the guy's cock is several times described as "punching" into her.

Oh, and the lubrication! There are fluids of every description, from "opalescent beads" of pre-cum to the chick's "balm", which at one point is used to "ice her arsehole"! Like a donut! And when they have anal sex, the guy is reminded of nothing more than being entangled in a heavy velvet curtain!

Are you as excruciatingly embarrassed reading this as I am? This is what makes me ask whether it's possible to write about sex in an erotic way without it being awful and clumsy and embarrassing. What makes 'erotic' writing anyway? Is it a tone or an excessively descriptive style? Or is it a contrivance of plot? Must it be bluntly and clinically described - and, perhaps, less 'erotic' - in order to avoid the embarrassment? Or am I just such a delicate petal that I get embarrassed at the drop of a hat? I ask, after all, as the co-author (aged 12) of a pornographic radio play entitled Drifting on the Lake, which contained the line: "She caressed his hard penis while he flecked her now-taut nipples." It took me many takes to record that line in a normal voice.

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