The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

the pad­lock and be­neath each sym­bol is an epi­graph from an­other mod­ernist, Woolf. On Mel’s book­shelf Con­nie finds a copy of Woolf’s To the Light­house, and later in the work Con­nie tells her­self, ‘‘ Yes, yes. Woolf will be her guide, her bea­con. All her nov­els, her es­says, her cer­tain­ties and ad­mon­ish­ments and evis­cer­at­ing truths.’’

But the guides and bea­cons in Gem­mell’s work are all too preva­lent. The book is it­self pierced with lit­er­ary al­lu­sions — to Lawrence, Woolf, Reage, as well as smaller ref­er­ences to Tracey Emin, EL James, Mar­guerite Duras. It is so aware of the tra­di­tion in which it is set that it strug­gles to be any­thing it­self. Gem­mell be­comes as sub­mis­sive to the orig­i­nal text as Con­nie is ini­tially to Cliff, or O to Sir Stephen.

Gem­mell is a skil­ful and tal­ented writer of erotic lit­er­a­ture, and the work un­folds sump­tu­ously and com­pellingly. She has a way of writ­ing sex that is pared back but still af­fect­ing. Con­nie’s mo­ments with Mel con­vey the depth of want­ing, pas­sion, ten­der­ness:

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