Con­nie stripped bare

I Take You

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Bethanie Blan­chard

By Nikki Gem­mell HarperCollins, 320pp, $27.99

IN the long tra­di­tion of erotic nov­el­ists, Nikki Gem­mell had in­tended to pub­lish her 2003 work The Bride Stripped Bare anony­mously. Yet in an ironic bar­ing of her own, the Syd­ney writer was re­vealed as the author just be­fore pub­li­ca­tion. In an in­ter­view fol­low­ing the re­lease of that in­ter­na­tion­ally suc­cess­ful novel, Gem­mell quoted Vir­ginia Woolf’s de­scrip­tion of anonymity as a refuge for fe­male writ­ers: ‘‘ Anonymity runs in their blood. The de­sire to be veiled still pos­sesses them.’’ Of her­self, she added: ‘‘ I could only write this book by be­ing veiled. It is still dif­fi­cult to talk about it pub­licly, 18 months af­ter be­ing un­masked.’’

Gem­mell’s new novel I Take You is the con­clud­ing work in an erotic tril­ogy, with The Bride Stripped Bare be­ing fol­lowed in 2011 by With My Body. The new novel is billed as ‘‘ a mod­ern-day Lady Chat­ter­ley’s Lover’’, and Gem­mell faith­fully re­pro­duces DH Lawrence’s provoca­tive text, the clas­sic nar­ra­tive un­fold­ing in all its el­e­gant fa­mil­iar­ity.

Con­nie is mar­ried to Clif­ford, a coldly in­tel­lec­tual up­per-class man re­cently paral­ysed from the waist down and con­fined to a wheel­chair. Trapped in her gilded cage, now phys­i­cally as well as emo­tion­ally ne­glected, Con­nie seeks so­lace with Mel­lors, the low­er­class gamekeeper who awak­ens in her a new sex­ual pas­sion.

Gem­mell’s up­dat­ing of the orig­i­nal text fig­ures Con­nie as a for­mer model, now waifish wife to an Amer­i­can ex-Gold­man Sachs banker, their mar­riage a ‘‘ gilded unlov­ing’’ in Lon­don’s fash­ion­able Not­ting Hill. Their priv­i­leged po­si­tion is trans­posed to an era where class means la­bels: Cliff’s wheel­chair — his paral­y­sis the re­sult of a ski­ing ac­ci­dent rather than a war in­jury — is a cus­tom-built Philippe Starck, while Con­nie is be­decked in heels by Louboutin and McQueen, Chanel hand­bags by Chloe and Mul­berry.

Work­ing in their pri­vate Not­ting Hill park is the gar­dener Mel, stripped of his broad Der­byshire ac­cent, though still with a pref­er­ence for the word c . . t. That word, which led to the un­ex­pur­gated novel’s pros­e­cu­tion un­der the Ob­scene Pub­li­ca­tions Act, is less shock­ing a half-cen­tury later.

Th­ese are the su­per­fi­cial al­ter­ations. What Gem­mell has in­tro­duced, in a darkly cli­mac­tic open­ing, is Con­nie en­dur­ing, un­der Cliff’s in­struc­tion, an ex­tremely in­ti­mate pierc­ing to

miniskirts, hold a heart-shaped, ruby-and-di­a­mond en­crusted pad­lock — a sort of hor­rif­i­cally per­ma­nent chastity belt. Ev­ery time Con­nie thinks of it, its weight, its grate, its drag and its cool­ness, she will be re­minded, thrilled, ad­dled, snaredly sub­mis­sive to him. Un­locked only by him, for oth­ers of his choos­ing, when­ever he deems it is time.

Where in Lawrence’s text Con­nie and Clif­ford’s phys­i­cal re­la­tion­ship fol­low­ing the

Lady Chat­ter­ley’s Lover

Jamieson Cald­well and Han­nah Nor­ris in a 2011 the­atri­cal ver­sion of

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