Tag: Joseph Kessel

Treading Air by Ariella van Luyn

Posted September 6, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

Treading Air by Ariella van LuynTitle: Treading Air (Goodreads)
Author: Ariella van Luyn
Published: Affirm Press, 2016
Pages: 304
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

There is a certain sense of glee to be had when you read a novel set in a familiar location. That moment when you recognise a street or the author accurately describes a location; that feeling is comforting and is what drove me through Ariella van Luyn’s debut novel Treading Air. The story takes place in two locations, in Townsville and Brisbane during the 1920s and 1940s, following the life of Lizze O’Dea. From an attraction and eventual marriage to battle scared Joe, to the new life in an unfamiliar town, Treading Air is a cinematic portrayal of independence, love and sex.

I often felt like there was something very familiar with the plot of Treading Air; a sense that I have read this novel before. Which I had, it was from French author Joseph Kessel, and the novel that was turned into the surrealist classic film of the same name, Belle de Jour. I could not unsee the similarities, a lonely housewife discovering her sexuality as a sex worker. There are more similarities to be explored but I do not want to give away anything.

Once I discovered this connection, I had a hard time really enjoying Treading Air, to the point where I considered abandoning the book once or twice. I merely kept going due to the fact that this was the selection for book club and I wanted to give it as much attention as possible. Treading Air is based on a real woman, the author found some information about her while looking through historical archives and thought that the story was too good not to write. They say truth is stranger than fiction, yet it was fiction where I found this story previously.

In the end I ended with two major issues with this novel. Firstly I think there could have been some interesting insights into the motivation and mindset of a sex worker that could have been explored. I feel that because the novel was written in third person we were never really in the mind of Lizzie and there could have been value to be had there. Secondly one piece of advice I hear about writing it ‘show don’t tell’ which is not always true (there are some great authors that tell rather than show) but in the case of this debut by Ariella van Luyn, it would have made for a better novel.

Do not get me wrong, this is not a bad book and I am curious to see what Ariella van Luyn does next. I personally felt it lacked some of the key components that I am interested in, especially in a novel about sex workers. Rather than pick Treading Air apart any further, I would simply say I was disappointed. I know others have enjoyed this novel but it just was not for me. If the synopsis does interest you, do not be afraid to give it a go.


The Adventures into Krissy Kneen and Incredible Erotic Literature

Posted July 25, 2016 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 4 Comments

The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex MachineSometimes you come across a novel that sounds so weird that you cannot help but consider reading it. For me, while browsing the shelves of Avid Reader, a delightful indie bookstore in Brisbane, I came across Krissy Kneen’s novel The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex Machine. The premise was simple, a young woman who wears a True Love Waits ring finds herself joining a sex book club. They dedicate themselves to exploring the so called classics of erotic literature. Upon reading this novel, I found this to be a delicious romp of genre blending and surreal sex. In the vain of Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure but with a blue glow emanating from her vulva. This fact I discovered early in the novel with the line “She wondered what Jack would think on their wedding night when he lifted her skirt to find her glow-in-the-dark vulva providing subtle illumination of their final act of love”.

One of the joys of this weirdly surreal novel was the way Kneen managed to explore the journey of sexual awakening while also recommending some good erotica to the reader. I compare this book with Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (or shall I call it Fanny Hill) simply because it explore this journey into sexual pleasure in a similar way. While one book feels more about the empowering nature of desire and the other a perverted fantasy written by someone stuck in prison.

I will admit my experience into erotica is very limited, from a perverted start into the website literotica to a mild curiosity in this genre. One key difference I have found between modern erotica and the classics is intention. For popular authors like Tiffany Reisz, Sylvia Day and E.L. James, their books intend to explore a fantasy, hoping to titillate the reader in one way or another. While in the case of the classics, it was more about exploring something much deeper. Whether it be a sexual awaking (Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure), the pleasures of the flesh (A Sport and a Pastime) to just using sex for symbolism.

I still have gaps in my reading for this genre, for example Anaïs Nin or Marquis de Sade. Though I am curious to explore it in greater detail. Thanks to Krissy Kneen and her novel, I now have a list to work from. I was pleased to see James Salter kicking off this wonderful novel and I was eager to write down a list books to read…only to find them listed in the back of the novel as well. In my never ending efforts to be well read, I now have some direction when it comes to Erotica.Erotic literature

While I adore the voyeuristic nature of A Sport and a Pastime, I was pleased to see some transgressive erotica gracing the pages of The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex Machine. One could argue whether these picks should be considered erotic in nature but they do explore sex in an interesting way. Take for example Lolita, there are some beautifully written erotica writing in the novel but this is countered by the disturbing nature of Humbert Humbert. Dolores’ own sexual awakening will be forever tainted by the predatorily nature of Humbert. This can also be explored in Me and Mr. Booker by Cory Taylor and Alissa Nutting’s novel Tampa which takes on the idea of the fantasy of sleeping with the teacher. However for further exploration into this I would recommend a memoir; Excavation by Wendy C. Ortiz.

Then you have something far more disturbing in nature with Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille, which takes sex to a far more depraved level. While this novel will indeed shock and sicken you, the symbolism to be found is what I found undeniably appealing. With the help of some essays combined with this novel called “The Pornographic Imagination” by Susan Sontag and “The Metaphor of the Eye” by Roland Barthes, Story of the Eye transforms into more than a surreal erotic. As I read it, I was disturbed by the mind of Bataille but now I feel sympathetic to his pain.

I was not surprised to see Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer) or Joseph Kessel (Belle de Jour) was neglected from the pages, I was expecting Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs to make an appearance. Sex in Burroughs represents power and could have added an interesting dynamic, though this could be just a projection of my love for surrealism. It is pleasing to read a novel that mirrors fragments from the classics. Kneen not only recommends books to Holly White and the reader, she was able to pay homage to the greats.

While my journey into erotica seems to be focused on the classics, I am all too aware that I have not considered literary erotica. I would like to think that a more literary erotic novel would closely resemble what I am interested in rather than just a fantasy aimed to arouse. I know I need to read Affection and Triptych by Krissy Kneen but I do need to try other authors. More research is needed for me and recommendations as well as I continue down this rabbit hole, who knows I may write more about erotica in the future.


Belle de jour by Joseph Kessel

Posted September 4, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Erotica / 0 Comments

Belle de jour by Joseph KesselTitle: Belle de Jour (Goodreads)
Author: Joseph Kessel
Translator: Geoffrey Atheling Wagner
Published: Overlook Books, 1928
Pages: 188
My Copy: eBook

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Belle de Jour is the story of Séverine Sérizy, a beautiful young housewife married to a successful doctor. Her life is pretty great, except she feels like she cannot fulfil her sexual affinity for masochistic desires with her husband. She gets a job as a prostitute under the pseudonym Belle de Jour, only working from two to five each week day, so she can return before her husband gets home. Her job gets her involved with a young gangster named Marcel who allows her to explore all her sexual fantasies. However this relationship of thrills becomes far too much and life gets complicated for Séverine.

Most people will know the story of Belle de Jour as it also a classic piece of French cinema from 1967. Directed by Luis Buñuel and staring Catherine Deneuve, the film explores the exact same story in a richer and interesting way. Buñuel is a Spanish director who has worked on movies in Spain, Mexico and France; he is also acclaimed for his avant-garde surrealist style. I was blown away by this movie and I only saw the movie recently. The concepts of the movie kept swimming through my mind that I needed to read the book to find out more.

What I have found is that the story in the novel is very similar but the surrealist nature of the movie was not there. I did however gain a few insights into the life of Séverine Sérizy that I never picked up on. There is some interesting observations to be made between the connection in literature and fetish, especially with sexual sadism and sexual abuse. This has been a common problem found in books like Fifty Shades of Grey and other novels that deal with BDSM. It is a little sad to think this trope steams all the way to 1928 and maybe further. I think French erotica is really interesting and it is weird to think this was written so long ago.

If you have seen the movie Belle de Jour, then reading the book is not really beneficial. Joseph Kessel does not offer anything interesting and I think everything that made the movie great was all original content from the mind of Luis Buñuel. I plan to re-watch the film sometime so I can write a review of it. As for French erotica, I plan to read more and I am not sure what to read.  I think might have to read The Story of O, but I am open to more suggestions.