For to­day

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Bethanie Blan­chard

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.

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