accident was cold, neglectful and utterly devoid of sex, in Gemmell’s novel their sexual life, still non-physical because of Cliff’s condition, blooms into a mental one of submission and domination, with Connie as his ‘‘ perversion, plaything, pet’’.
Yet this piercing has a debt to another classic erotic text, Pauline Reage’s Story of O. As in that 1954 novel, I Take You begins with a car trip to a manor house, where the female protagonist stripped and prepared.
The heart-shaped locket is the looming presence in the novel. Emphasising Connie’s entrapment in her marriage, each of the 65 short chapters is branded with the symbol of There is no complacency, no taking for granted, he wants his stroking, licking, caressing, cherishing to be remembered. It’s as if he wants to wipe all her husband’s ways like a whiteboard freshened; to stamp her skin with the permanence of his own stroke.
Yet the confounding problem with Gemmell’s project is the fundamentally difficult task of updating a text such as Chatterley. Though one can remove the dated vernacular and Lawrence’s questionable views on female sexuality, it’s impossible to modernise the central relationship of a man and woman having passionate, loving sex, stripped of all artifice, surrounded by nature. The garden may be in Notting Hill instead of the grounds of Wragby Hall, the discarded clothes Cloe or Gucci, but the physical connection between Connie and Mellors changes little from one era to the next.
Within Gemmell’s oeuvre, this, one feels, is the point. The early books in her erotic trilogy circle on a theme: women stuck in secure but sexually unfulfilling marriages who begin to wonder if there may be something else, more wanton, daring, dangerous. With Lawrence’s story in I Take You, Gemmell turns this theme on its head. What Connie has with Cliff is precisely this perverse, adventurous sex life, and what she finds thrills her — the transgressive act — is simply honest, loving sex. ‘‘ She no longer wants padlocks and blindfolds, sophistication, theatre, clandestine texts, she just wants simplicity. The wonder of that.’’
It is, then, a fitting end to Gemmell’s trilogy, one that she had hoped to begin anonymously. Though the days when an erotic novel can be considered an object so dangerous it can be brought to trial for obscenity appear to be past, with her concluding text Gemmell has indeed veiled herself, in the words and themes of Lawrence, Reage and Woolf.