Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Lessons of the Project

I have immersed myself in sex. I am reading it, writing it, listening to it on audio book, not the noises of sex (as one might listen to whale songs or the chirrup of dolphins), but the classic books about it. I have read many books about sex in the past, but always for pleasure and never with a view to becoming an expert in classic sex literature, but this year I have a deadline to deliver a novel that references the great works of the genre. The first task then has been to identify the great works. This is no easy task. The list is quite extensive.

I had the basics down. I had read Nin's "Delta of Venus" and "Little Birds" and some novels by Georges Bataille. I had read Reage's "The Story of O" and Nicholson Baker's "Vox" and a pile of sexual memoirs that I dipped into when I was writing my own. But if you begin to lift the lid of the genre then you realise you have discovered a veritable Pandora's Box of terrors and delights. I hadn't, for example continued my initial struggles with de Sade who I found stuffy in his language and a little pointed in his relentless pursuit of transgression. I had opened Fanny Hill and backed quickly away from the pomp and powder of the age in which it was written. We all have our particular tastes. That is what I have been discovering for myself. Some of the classic sex books capture my imagination immediately and some leave me a little cold, and dare I say it, dry.

I am beginning to discover that for me, use of language is more important than the plot. I am aroused by the placement of words, the flow of sentences, the hint of broader themes lying just beyond the bodily delights. Some of the less physical of the classic texts are actually more sensual. James Salter for instance woos us into submission with his relentless longing in "A Sport and a Pastime". "Young Adam" a book by Alexander Trocchi which has an unsettling sexual undercurrent led me to discover his more traditionally sexual works each equally disturbing and arousing. My favourite discovery so far has been Yusinari Kawabata, a Nobel Prize winning Japanese author whose novella "The House of the Sleeping Beauties" is a mesmerising treatise on sex, death and aging and clearly the cornerstone for Julia Leigh's Australian film "Sleeping Beauty". It is a novella about sex and yet there are no actual descriptions of the act itself. Set in a kind of brothel where old men pay to sleep beside the naked drugged and sleeping bodies of young girls, the protagonist struggles with his nostalgia for lost youth, his own encroaching impotence, the idea of death and his memories of sex. There are hints of sexuality in the book, the text is infused with it, and yet the sparse prose leaves the details of it completely up to the reader. It is our job as reader to describe the details of the sex in the theater of our imaginations. The book is perhaps more potent because of what remains unsaid. It is a book that continues to haunt me even as I move on from the reading of it. I am now discovering the lewdness of Felix Salten's "The Memoirs of Josephine Mutzenbacher" and enjoying the fact that Salten was the author of one of my childhood favourites, "Bambi" which was turned into a very wholesome Disney animated film. It is these simple juxtapositionings that bring me the most pleasure in my strange and varied research.

Sometimes, reading sex book after sex book, I become immune to the descriptions of genitals. What is left is the sensuality of language, the rythm of it, the blowsy beauty of a string of words slipped together by a skilled craftsperson. Kawabata is a master of it. Anais Nin has flashes of brilliance. Salter leaves you breathless. Nicholson Barker manages it with a playful wink and I am facing Nabokov's longest and most complex work, "Ador and Ardor", with trepidation. It is a sex epic that has been likened to Ulysses and hefting it around in my handbag and struggling with the clever but incredibly complex wordplay I can see why. I am just at the beginning of my year of reading and there is still so much to discover, but even at this early stage I feel inspired to put some of these books in your hands, fellow readers. Stick with me and I will hand you some rare gems indeed.

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan - my first thoughts.

I don't read fantasy. I need to start by getting this straight. Some people love the genre, and when I was a teenager I did too, overindulging to the point of not ever wanting to read another fantasy novel again. With this in mind, I came to Sea Hearts a little reluctantly. I knew Margo Lanagan could write. I had been surprised by her last novel Tender Morsels, startled, mainly by her play with language which seemed to eclipse some of the fantasy elements of the story.

Sea Hearts is even more engaging that Tender Morsels. There is a fantasy of sorts underpinning the book, but Sea Hearts plants its footprint firmly in the realm of Myth and therefore in the real hopes and fears of humankind. It draws on the legend of the Selkie, gentle sea women who step out of their seal skins to raise families with fishermen, spending their lives longing for a world they have left behind. In Margo's skillful hands we are woven a tale that resonates with so much in our real lives, that feeling that we often have that we do not belong in this world, a longing for something that is missing from our hearts, a certain melancholy that we all experience at one time or another, the idea that love is temporary and that no matter how strong a relationship can be there is always a longing for something more.

Lanagan presents her story with all the linguistic beauty of a Michael Ondaatje novel. The story is divided between the characters who narrate it. Her characters take this simple myth and each of them presents a different facet of the story. Told side by side the perspectives illuminate each other providing a richness to the tale that would not be there if the story were told from only one perspective. Sea Hearts is an assured novel told by a writer at the top of her game. She is a multi award winning author and her use of language is startlingly original.

If you are a lover of fantasy, think more "The Secret of Rowan Innish" or perhaps "Let the Right One In". If you, like me, are unlikely to pick up a fantasy novel, then think Ondaatje, or perhaps Marquez. Whatever it is that brings you to Lanagan's work, when you have found her, pass her on to others. Lanagan deserves a wider readership. In terms of the great women of Australian writing, she is too often overlooked. Do yourself a favour and look closer at Sea Hearts.

Friday, January 13, 2012


My boy says there is nothing sexy about hoarding. I was testing out the idea for a character in my sex book. Perhaps secretly she is a hoarder, one of those ones that seems normal until you happen to call at her house. I thought this might make her more human, add to her personality as a real character and not just a cardboard cut out. Hoarding is just not sexy he said to me and I begin to fret.

My family are hoarders. All of them. I am a hoarder in my own way. Before my boy moved in it was obvious from just looking at my flat. Now it is more ordered. My boy takes my things and puts them in their places. Sometimes he orders a clean out and I struggle with each magazine, each pone number, each business card. Throwing anything away is like plunging a blunt implement into my eyeball. Everything has a use and I have not used it. It is enough to make me weep from the waste of opportunity.

So hoarders are not sexy. We no longer have a proper mirror, but I look in the small reflective square that fell off the wall and I know that this is true. My hoarding is just one of the many unattractive qualities. My weight, my height, my anxiousness, my irritation, my hatred of all pop culture, my strident anger at poor taste, my highbrow reading, my insistence on thick rimmed glasses when I know it makes me look like a wanna be hipster, my lethargy, my aggression, my insistence on hanging around people old enough to be my children, my occasional crushes on said young folk. I could go on and on and on.

I throw out half my clothing till my wardrobe is packed but not overflowing. I cull a few of my million books, I clear a space on my desk, but these are not the only things I have to cull. Despite my anger at having to do so I suppose I must shed thirty kilos and find new friends or travel alone. I should begin to dress like a middle aged lady, although that is the hardest thing to imagine. But like any hoarder, even one of these things seems like a giant mountain, looming, waiting for me to climb.


I wake into a sense of something missing. One small, amorphous thing is gone and can never be replaced. It is like a death this little loss of love only unlike with a death there is no funeral, no wake, no fellow mourners. This thing is private and for an audience of one. I sit alone with it, carrying it like a dead baby heavy and low in my body. I drag myself from bed and stumble into a day, knowing there will be more days thrown at me. a barrage. I keep my vision focused on the next step and the next, because to look ahead would be enough to make me crawl back under the covers where I would stay. As long as I am able.

Time Lapse

Those time lapse photographs that show a flower opening, a seed sprouting, a dandelion clock unfolding. I know that Z and Two Noughts is pretentious and dubious but I think I will always love the time lapse photographs of decay. No I say. Stop. Now. Here, in the spring of your life, remember that the shutter keeps on clicking. The body blooms and puffs out and wrinkles up and turns over on itself. Flesh becomes meat, meat becomes refuse, refuse in its time is cleared away.

My time has come and gone. Gone now. Remember gone. At some point the others see you as you do not see yourself, ridiculous, overblown, a cheap drag show parody of your overt sexuality.

Gone now.

Leave them to their young people's dreaming. Remember this. I can't keep repeating it. Leave them to their unrequited longing and their tedious games of 'come here go away'. You are too smart for all that now, too wiley. You are on the turn, you have moved from stop motion joy to stop motion regret. Decay with some semblance of your dignity. Recover what is left of it and uncoil your arthritic frame and just walk on.