Connie stripped bare
I Take You
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
Jamieson Caldwell and Hannah Norris in a 2011 theatrical version of