Friday, October 19, 2012

As She's Told, by Anneke Jacob

Description from

Winner of the National Leather Association's 2008  Pauline Reage Novel Award. 

   Take two caring, thoughtful individuals with some highly unusual sexuality, let their paths cross, and watch how far their obsession takes them. That's the essence of this story about an intense bdsm relationship: extreme, loving, creative, steeped in imagination, embedded in the real world. What emerges is a passionate, private sexual reality, in which the balance of power tips only one way. 
   Maia and Anders want nothing less than total power exchange, without games, negotiations or safewords. Any pretence is out of the question; for both of them the power relationship has to be as genuine as it is absolute, but Anders is more than aware of the risks to inexperienced Maia if she should be wrong about what she can handle. Early on, he steers a careful line between games and gobbling her up. His ownership is established step by step through conditioning, painful consequences, humiliation and constant bondage, and before long, Maia finds walking away has become inconceivable. Anders keeps his slave increasingly 'like an animal on a very short tether' something to which she struggles to adjust, in a continuous state of terror and joy His love of technology takes some interesting turns, particularly around orgasm control, teasing and denial. 
   The intensification of Maia's enslavement is balanced by the pair's affection, sense of humour and intelligent conversation, and by the real world of work and friends. Some of these friends become integrated into the menage one way and another, and help Anders create the setting in which Maia's uttermost submission can flower. Graphic BDSM content.

Amazon lists this title as being available in paperback and Kindle format.  I read it on my Kindle.

- How kinky?

Oh, boy, is it ever!  This is a one-stop-shop for all your kinky and BDSM needs.  You've got your basic ownership - and I mean real, no-playing ownership of human property - all the way to your physical violence, and pretty much everything that genre entails.  There's sensory deprivation, animalisation, psychological torture,
philosophy of kink; it's brilliant. 

- How sexy?

There are some amazingly intense sex scenes here.  But it's not just the sex we kinksters are after, is it?  Some of the non-sex scenes are amazingly sexy as well.  It's always a subjective minefield, this "sexiness" rating, and of course for every new reader there is another viewpoint.  For me ... I had trouble getting past the psychology of the piece.  For those readers for whom that presents no obstacle - I wish you wet dreams!

- How inspiring?

Very.  This is one thing that Jacob does better than almost anyone else, is the thorough detail she goes into with her scene descriptions.  WARNING:  There are just so, so many things in this novel that should not be attempted by real-life human people.  It is inspiring to fantasy, to a very strong degree, and can give you some wonderful detail to work with if you wish to pick up on a certain point and expand on that with your lover/s.  But by no means should these scenes be taken in their entirety and inflicted upon anyone.  It's fiction for a reason.

- How engaging?

Reasonably.  I am a bit obsessed with reading in general, so of course I found myself picking this one up several times a day and enjoying more.  But one of the strong advantages of Jacob's work is also a minor disadvantage:  It's very long.  By halfway through I was a little bit desensitised to the kinkporn, and wanted something to happen besides punishment.  There's not a whole lot in the way of master plot, or character arches here.
  It's a bit flat, in that sense.

- How well executed?

Very.  Jacob has a command of language that surpasses many more established and, well, famous writers. These characters are so well rounded and three dimensional, I feel like they are about to walk through my door.  The surroundings are described in detail, and every little bit of hardware, equipment, clothing and paraphernalia is brought to such vivid life, that I find myself astounded - and feeling so very, very lucky and smug - that Jacob could be a kinkporn writer.  She's all ours, people!  We don't have to share her with mainstream fiction.  It is an incredibly rich picture she paints for her readers, and at no point will you find yourself wishing for more detail.  This is literary art. 

- Negatives?
 Okay. Well.  Another very subjective topic.  In fact, despite that fact that I am such a fan of Jacob's work, I find myself adding this extra "Negatives" section just to critique this book accurately.  
This is an incredibly beautiful book, but also extraordinarily difficult to read.  I found it as psychologically disturbing as a Stephen King novel.  The themes of torture, animalisation, shame and guilt are so strong in this story I found it almost sickening.  There is so much shame and guilt here, and so little trust or respect between the main characters, that I felt like I was reading Catholic doctrine (boom-tish).  
Seriously, though, I felt that while fictionalising a relationship where the D-type had absolutely no respect or trust for the s-type - and even fetishised his lack of trust for her - is fine in theory, the idea that anyone reading this book could get an inkling that this would be cool or even mildly okay in real life is alarming.  I do, of course, realise that we cannot censor our fiction just because some nutjobs think it's real, but it is also true that this lifestyle, this scene does tend to attract some of the more worrying types of nutjobs.  I would feel horrified to think of anyone thinking this sort of torture played out on the s-type was reasonable IRL.  The overarching theme of the shame and self-hatred that D drums into s every time she gets close to orgasm was disturbing to me.  The programming she received to loathe herself for doing natural human things, or for being in any way human, was actually really difficult to read.  I found myself wanting to rescue this poor girl, who thought that loving someone and thinking they were physically attractive meant that psychological trauma, and torture almost to the point of mental illness, were okay.
Also, on a personal note, I did feel that the 100% absolute control he required over his s-type showed a paradoxical weakness of character, which led me almost to despise him as the story continued ... but that's probably just my opinion.  Who am I to question the National Leather Association :) (sarcasm, sarcasm).  

- Overall reaction
I love Jacob's work.  No, I really do.  It's like viewing a Heironymous Bosch painting - you might find the subject matter disturbing in many ways, but there is no question of the talent of the artist, or the skill required to execute such a work.  It is truly wonderful to know that there are kinky writers out there producing such strong, well written stuff for us.  If you like kinkporn, if you appreciate excellent wordsmithing, and if you can distance the part of your brain that might want to go whimper in the corner when a small furry animal gets smacked - then I cannot recommend Jacob's work highly enough.  Another five from me :)

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