I read Story of O this week, not because I’m starting up a new erotica review site, but because it’s Simon and Kaggsy’s #1954club week and the 1001 books to read before you die book told me that Story of O is a book from 1954 that I should read … before I die. The translator of Story of O wisely seems to have remained anonymous, so I can’t credit them here.

The book’s cover tells us “Before Fifty Shades of Grey there was … Story of O“. (Oh, can I just add before I go on, I did not spend cash money on this book, I got it from the library, to where it will be returning tomorrow.) Fifty Shades of Grey was an unreadable pile of hokum that I did attempt to read on holiday once (why did I take shit erotica on holiday to read while caring for three under-10s?). Anyway, I remember wanting to hurl it across the villa patio and into the pool, but unfortunately I was reading it on my Kindle (for obvious reasons), and didn’t want to smash it.

The front cover endorsement here, then, didn’t exactly whet my appetite. Then, inside the front cover, comes a rave review from Graham Greene, of all people:

A rare thing, a pornographic book well written and without a trace of obscenity”

Ok Graham… Story of O is undoubtedly nearly 300 pages of absolute filth, in which a young fashion photographer is coerced by her boyfriend René to go to a weird Gothic castle in Roissy and be abased and abused by random men for days on end, even to the extent at one point of being forced to sleep in a filthy castle dungeon, chained to the wall. Back at home, he prostitutes her to toff Sir Stephen, who likes anal sex and more whipping (did I mention there’s lot of whipping), and who it turns out is a sort-off half brother/step-brother to René, but with an unexplained title. And English.

O later becomes a kind of Ghislaine Maxwell-type procuress for the torture castle in Roissy (luckily she works with models, you see). One of my daughters is 15, and they had definitely lost me by the time they were corrupting 15-year-old Nathalie, though I’d been lost from around page 15.

Greene’s claims of lack of obscenity I guess must come from the weird glossed over references to body parts. Men have a “sex”, women a “womb” or a “belly”. So, a man might “grab” O “by the womb”, which sounds frankly agonising and also made me picture him as Donald Trump, divesting the narrative of any hint of eroticism as rapidly as O loses her complicated corsetry. And don’t get me onto the “fleeces”.

Shall I go on? You probably want me to stop by now, so I think I will.

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