Bodice Rippers & Erotica Book Reviews: Nikki Gemmell

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I Take You
With My Body

I Take You by Nikki GemmellBook Cover of I Take You by Nikki Gemmell

Read by Tracy in June 2013

Tracy recommends that you don't read this one on public transport!

The Publishing Blurb: From the author of the bestsellers The Bride Stripped Bare and With My Body, a new twist on a classic tale of passion. Set in Notting Hill, this modern day version of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’, sees a banker’s wife awaken to the erotic possibilities of her life. Connie Carven is devoted to her husband, who is left paralysed from the waist down following an accident. But this is no less than he demands – in fact, he insists on Connie’s utter subservience to his every desire. But unable to physically satisfy his wife, Clifford is eager to explore new, strange and troubling avenues of passion. Connie, ever the dutiful wife, follows wherever he leads. And yet Connie is bursting with unfulfilled desire. Unfulfilled, that is, until the communal gardener enters, and their affair accelerates to its tense, shuddering conclusion.

My Review: So this is the conclusion to the Bride Stripped Bate trilogy? It has been a very interesting ride and one thing is for sure, Nikki Gemmell certainly captured the female erotica section long before E.J. James and her Fifty Shades Trilogy. I Take You also takes steamy reading up several notches and after I started reading this book on the train, I put it in my bag to read in quieter surroundings. I had expected it to be less raunchy that With My Body as it is supposedly a retake on Lady Chatterley’s Lover - how wrong could I be and after reading a fairly large array of post Fifty Shades books, this breaks new grounds in erotica. Connie and Cliff have been married for four years and together for five before that. After Cliff has a skiing accident which finds him confined to a wheelchair, he now makes Connie's life a misery, so the previously loveless marriage becomes emotionally abusive. She married for money and position and he married to a quiet wife who would do his bidding - a match made in heaven. Eventually Connie writes down her innermost thoughts and desires which give Cliff an insight into the depths she will go to fulfil her fantasies. The first few chapters set the scene on their relationship and his total control over her body - padlock and all! Connie and Cliff live in the world of the Mayfair hedge fund, he manages copious quantities of money and she spends it. Underneath it all, I felt that Cliff was desperate to fit in with his contemporaries, but his American brashness makes him stand out and it is only his ability to make money for the already uber rich that lets him cross the boundaries. Their life is one of privilege but Connie is starting to see around her and realise that maybe there is more that living in a life that is extremely competitive - she is surrounded by wives who are even using their child bearing ability to ensure that their Christmas Cards are the smuggest. Then there is the elephant in the room - children. Cliff doesn't want any - finding his godchildren spoilt and obnoxious, but Connie is undecided. As she is re-evaluating her life and its emptiness she finds Mel, the gardener of their exclusive communal garden. He is a man of the earth, not caught up in the consumerist life that surrounds him. Previously married, he is licking his wounds and not willing to trust again and certainly not willing to let Connie into his life. However, they are soon inseparable, unable to find a medium, snatching time when they can. Cliff knows there is something different about his wife and when he wants her to "play", she drops the bombshell and she opts for life. Although she worries how she will cope without her chai lattes, after a lot of soul searching where Connie finds herself viewing class and wealth differently, she is ready to reject it all and embark on a new life that is exciting, fresh, energizing and glorious. Most importantly of all she feels happiness having found herself alive for a love that is transcendent, utterly natural, deeply tender sex.

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With my Body by Nikki GemmellBook Cover of With my Body by Nikki Gemmell

Read by Tracy in August 2012

Tracy recommends to get you hoping to find that one true love

In 2003 Nikki Gemmell created waves when, writing under the tag 'Anonymous', The Bride Stripped Bare became a literary sensation, with its raw and unflinching depiction of female sexuality making it reach top bestseller lists around the world. Eight years later, With my Body continues the theme of women's sexuality and questions what is intimacy and whether it is ever truly possible to know another person. Attempting to be a manifesto for married mothers everywhere and a highly personal story of one woman’s sexual awakening. The publisher synopsis describes With my Body as being about a wife, a mother of three, she has everything a woman should want — and yet she has gone numb inside. Locked in a never-ending cycle of chores, errands, and mealtimes, she cannot find a way to live her life with the honesty and passion that once drove her. Even her husband, whom she loves, has never truly touched the core of her being. Only one person has ever come close. In desperation, she returns to the memory of an old love affair — a transformative relationship with consequences she has never fully resolved. Revisiting her past, she will begin an exhilarating journey into her sexuality while finally confronting the hidden truths of her heart. With My Body is organized into a set of lessons for women, inspired by a Victorian book titled A Woman’s Thoughts About Women, written by Dinah Maria Mulock Craik and published in 1858. This book plays a dominant role in the narrator’s life with every chapter labelled with a phrase from the Victorian book, which subsequently tells a corresponding part of the narrator’s story.

Marriage: to resign one's self totally and contentedly into the hands of another; to have no longer any need of asserting one's rights or one's personality (page 16).

As the story progresses, the book is filled with meticulous notes from the narrator and her past lover, almost like a secret treasure to look back and reflect.

The story opens with the wife (our narrator), who is in her forties, comfortably married with three small boys, buried in a large house in the Cotswolds, on the verge of a nervous breakdown and far away from her youth where she was a successful lawyer. She realises that she has become numb and "lonely yet desperate for alone, finding it so hard to get away, to steal moments of blissful alone from everyone dependent upon you. You feel infected with sourness; have lost the sunshine in your soul. You do not like who you have become; someone reduced. Yet you are so fortunate, have so much. You know this, despairingly. Cannot complain but are locked in your demanding little world of giving, giving, giving to everyone else, all the time; trapped" (page 7). As the continual cycle of life wears her down, she realises the she doesn't particularly like her children, her "friends" are in reality just competing against each other and she hasn't actually got any real relationships with anyone she can talk to. She has become so distant from her life that she starts to return to her childhood memories allowing her to escape reality and not address that her husband, Hugh, no longer excites her. When she first married Hugh she was "aching for love, something transporting; he was a friend who had you laughing deep into the night... You are so fortunate to have him, you know this, and you must never forget it. (page 12). Hugh isn't a bad character, he has just become inattentive, busy with maintaining the lifestyle and spending time with the children, you have both lost your spark and settled into a life that is boring to you both and the wish of a more passionate life, where she is with someone who really reaches her core. It would seem that for a long time she has thought of Hugh as having fulfilled his purpose; you have children, are sated (page 9).

The story is picked up when the narrator is in her teens (fourteen-ish). She lost her mother at a very young age to breast cancer and was brought up by her father, developing an extremely close bond, living a life of almost wildness in a very small community. Her father suddenly remarries and she finds herself shipped off to a convent in the big city of remote Sydney when her step-mother can't live with the constant reminder of her husband's first wife. Once at the convent, sex starts to play a more prominent role and the transition of childhood to adulthood becomes an almost priority. After an extremely bad initial experience after a tryst with a painter goes wrong, she returns back to her country home and soon stumbles onto "Woondala", a neglected shell of a house. As she is wandering through the home, she finds a reclusive writer, Ptolomy (Tol), who is suffering from heart break and a case of writers block. When the stepmother reads her journals which documented all the incidents over the years; all her cruelties, hurts and vulnerabilities the words have become tangible and there is a new power in being able to walk out and not care. This is coupled with a growing attraction with Tol, the cruelty of her stepmother is able to be pushed into the background. In the sidelines is the story of her father who is unable to articulate his desires, thinking he is doing the right thing by allowing his wife to help provide advice and assistance, not really understanding the hatred that is felt. As there is nobody to provide guidance, all decisions are based on a desire to be touched. As her relationship changes from desire to consumption, Tol initiates her into sex and this has a profound impact on her whole life. The age difference between the narrator and Tol, whom I expect to be in his late twenties to early thirties, provides a lot of deep thoughts on paedophilia and what age is too young. Tol is initially averse to having a young girl in his life, but she convinces him to be her teacher, initiating her into a sexual awakening and together they create The Most Secret and Mysterious Woondala Love Academy (page 213). With my Body is unlike a lot of the women's erotica books on the scene at the moment and it does look at the empowerment of female sexuality - finding that person who you can tell your deepest desires to without prejudice and the underlying realisation that an enjoyment of sex isn't about technique, or cleavage, or a perfect body - it's about confidence. It isn't all high morality - she is a young girl under the direction of an older man and without direction of anyone older, anyone to protect her. As the lessons continue, the notes in the book are his love letters to her. The lessons are attacked with pleasure by the narrator who is curious about everything to do with the body. There are some extremely steamy scenes along with the usual teenage angst of what will happen in the future where Tol becomes the paragon by which all others are measured and who she eventually realises she was so lucky, so lucky to have found that one (page 9).

After reading the story about Tol and the narrator, we are then transported back to grey, miserable and damp England, where the narrator realises her life can't continue and even Hugh agrees to her taking the children and heading back to Australia to introduce them to her father and the great outdoors. When she arrives back in Australia the boys quickly give up their electronic baby sitters and embark on running, swimming and generally mucking around, the family soon falls into an easy relaxed lifestyle. As she starts to address some of her issues, she gradually realises that she misses Hugh, realises that his ability to make her laugh is the secret to a good relationship (page 400). She reconnects with her past and it is like a huge penny dropping with the realisation that you don't have to fit in to make friends, that friendships can run their natural course and that is not shameful or guilty sometimes they are right for a particular time and then they are not. Move on, cleanly, as the souring starts. (page 457). This is a huge turning point and she doesn't have to feel like she must compete. The ending was great - it could have so easily turned into a melodrama with everyone's relationships being nicely linked back together. Luckily Nikki decided to make it more realistic.

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