Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Catherine Millet - The Sexual Life of Catherine M

Title: The Sexual Life of Catherine M
Author: Catherine Millet

Translated by: Adriana Hunter

ISBN # 0802117163

Publisher: Grove Press

First Published: 2001
209 pages
Format: Hardback
Rating: 7/10

The Sexual Life of Catherine M is the autobiography of a well-known Parisian art critic who likes to spend nights in the singles clubs of Paris and in the Bois de Boulogne where she has sex with a succession of anonymous men. Unlike many contemporary women writers, there is no guilt in Millet's narrative, no chronicles of use and abuse: on the contrary, she has no regrets about a life of energetic sexual activity. Catherine Millet's writing is a subtle reflection on the boundaries of art and life and she uses her insights on the role of the body in modern art to set the scene for her multiple sexual encounters. The Sexual Life of Catherine M is very much a manifesto of our times - when the sexual equality of women is a reality and where love and sex have gone their own separate ways. Like The Story of O, it is a shocking book that aims to capture a decisive moment in our sexual history.

Unsurprisingly, this is very frank and graphic in detail, but it's not really what I would describe as pornographic, despite the language used (yes, there are "unsavoury" euphemisms that perhaps aren't considered polite in company). Despite the fact that the author (and protagonist) has undoubtedly had many, many lovers over the years, it's written in such a way that it doesn't seem at all "dirty" in a way that it is often considered with double standards the way they are. Nor did I feel pity, as the way it's presented, there is nothing to pity. In fact, Millet comes across as a strong and independent woman who enjoys experimenting and pushing the limits. It's making for an intoxicating and titillating read!

I found that I could identify with some of Millet's feelings in certain situations, the way she described her relationship with the space around her.

There are one or two uncomfortable moments where she describes incidents in her childhood and early teens that suggest that her sexual life may have been coloured in response to them, but even these are presented in a matter-of-fact style, as if to say, “These things happen, but one moves on.”

Although there are elements of Millet's life that make me feel very sad for her, I also admire her for her unashamed openness and bravery in revealing her inner self like this. I also think that many women might find a small part of themselves portrayed in this book, whether or not they'd publicly admit to it.

This is an intriguing exploration into self discovery and abandonment to the pleasures of the flesh.


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