Friday, February 5, 2010

Story of O

Story of O

Story of O / Pauline Réage
Histoire d'O. English
New York : Ballantine Books, 1973
Originally published: 1954
Translated by Sabine d'Estrée
Preface by Jean Paulhan
xxxvi, 199 p.

Story of O is one of those novels you have to read properly to really appreciate. If you just dive into this twisted, masochistic novel of sex and submission without any background, you may find it puzzling and a bit empty. The author, actually named Anne Declos, wrote the novel as a love-letter to her lover, Jean, who enjoyed the work of the Marquis de Sade and thought no woman could write like that. Declos, took up the challenge and proved to her lover that even though she wasn't the type who could fulfill this fantasy of his, she could certainly understand it.

And so Story of O is the story of complete submission of the main character, O, to her lover René. It opens as she is being sent to a place called Roissy, where she will be whipped, abused, and subjected to the sexual whims of a group of men to whom she is not permitted to speak or even make eye-contact. This is all by way of training her for her role. After Roissy, René uses her as he will and shares her with Sir Stephen, who will send her to a dominatrix for further training, piercing, and branding her with his initials.

The book is limited in the amount of back story it provides. We never really understand why the male characters are the way they are; it takes place mostly in O's head, and even here the reader is left constantly at a loss for why she repeatedly gives her consent to be treated as she is. Being loved, the desire to be desired, making her lover happy, it all is explained, but it never totally adds up. And on some level, I don't think it's supposed to. Her reasons for doing things seem to be exactly what her masters would want to hear. That's why the context of the book is so important.

And I liked the ending. Some people seem to complain about it because it is abrupt and seemingly unfinished. There are two little paragraphs after the story that say, essentially, "In a final chapter, this happened. In an alternate ending, this happened." I'm not sure why she did it that way, but I chose to sort of ignore them. The previous scene ends the book just like I'd want it to.

So it's an interesting book. I wouldn't call it entertaining, nor would I call it especially erotic, but it's definitely something to think about. And thankfully much better than those insufferable Anne Rice novels.

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