Monday 3 December 2007

Review: The Sex Mook: What Is Our Sex?, edited by Julian Fleetwood (2007), Vignette Press, East Melbourne

Fleetwood's introduction contends that "this book is rough" and that it was done to produce "honesty and openness" but the most satisfying element is that this is a manifesto. It is a very polite one, but a manifesto nevertheless. It's been a while since I read such a thing.

Good are 'Do You Love Me?' by Louise Ellis Carter, which describes the satisfactions of role-play, 'Our Sex Is Not For Sale' by Emily Maguire, a run-down of the highly manufactured character of most sex in the media today, and 'Nympho' by Nithya Sambasivam, a poem about finding your legs in a Western society when you're told to want something else.

The good thing about the collection qua collection is the shortness of the pieces. Most do not go over three pages, including Leticia Supple's 'Private Time', which describes what a young woman gets up to when she locks her bedroom door. Not all of the collection is this good, and much is forgettable. But it's a start.

It's also welcome from the point of view of equity. There are pieces that are more forthrightly about the politics of sex, such as Peter van der Merwe's 'On Not Being Gay', and 'Herpes Male Seeks Herpes Female...' by Anna Krien.

I kept waiting for someone to allude to the father of sex writing (Henry Miller) but he seems to belong to a white, male orthodoxy that is no longer in style. A recent movie by some French people of D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley reminds us that some things still need to be said.

One of which is that conflict can be liberating. In a piece in today's The Sydney Morning Herald, Cate Blanchett reminds us that "You don't want to be surrounded by yeah-sayers" and she's backed up by David Malouf.

His story in a nice collection I'm currently reading (Journeys: Modern Australian Short Stories, Five Mile Press, 2007) 'Elsewhere', includes a classic line about the inner-city elites among whom Andy Mayo (from Lismore) finds himself when his sister-in-law dies (probably from AIDS, though it's never specified).

After the funeral, Andy and Harry (Debbie's father) drive to a house somewhere in the suburbs for the wake. There are a lot of people who totally ignore Andy and the bereft father. Andy feels "He was in the middle of it" but:

No one paid any attention to him, though they weren't hostile. They just went on arguing.

Politics. Though it wasn't really an argument either, since they all agreed.

This is superb, although without doubt the best items in the book belong to Robert Adamson (actually a section from a memoir, Inside Out: An Autobiography) and the inimitable Cate Kennedy, whose 'Dark Roots' (about a woman of 39 with a lover aged 26) starts on page 79.

Also of note is a story by the erstwhile High Court judge Ian Callinan, 'The Romance of Steam', which chronicles a train journey from Sydney to Brisbane and hunger among the three hundred women in uniform on board, during WWII.

I picked up this collection in Wagga Wagga, a town of some 60 thousand souls where it was still 31 degrees Celcius at 4pm and 29 degrees at 5pm. The sex book was bought at Federation Square, central Melbourne. The two young women behind the table brought my attention to the nicely gift-wrapped books it held. I just picked up a naked copy from the pile and paid.

I had immediately beforehand bought two Russian modernist novels, The Silver Dove by Andre Bely and The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov. This table was run by Three Bears Books and I plan to contact them with the email address provided to get some Russian Symbolist poetry. The kind Nabokov always talks about.


lisa said...

It's great to hear your thoughts on The Sex Mook! Feedback is always appreciated.

Keep up the great reviewing.

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