A self-consciously erotic novel set in Madrid by a first-time Spanish author, published in the UK last year and translated (noticeably, irritatingly) for a British readership. Like The Story of O and other Grove shockers from the heyday of the publisher's battles against censorship, The Ages of Lulu seems designed to titillate American readers with its vaguely elegant (read: European), louche sexual hedonism sanctified by the aura of the artistic. But with so much good dirty stuff available now, with all the battles fought and won for Burroughs and Rechy, with Sade receiving a major figure's classy biography last year, do we need this? Readers may be inclined to say no just a few pages into the preposterous opening: a description of the entranced Lulu watching a fabulous porn video, ""a thick thread of transparent saliva [hanging] from [her] bottom lip."" We then see Lulu as a teen lose her virginity to her brother's pal, Pabio; later, after becoming a classics scholar (her specialty is translations of the saucy Roman poet Martial), she marries him but still has sexual hungers that compel her to cruise gay bars and do threesomes. (No condom makes an appearance at any time.) Later still, she leaves Pablo and has such a good time in some S&M play that she experiences a brush with death. Lulu is poked with scissor points, blindfolded, and roughly sodomized by anonymous strangers -- but she always ends up loving it, and there's no enlightenment, even of the cheapest kind. The novel is written as if we live in repressed times, as if the act of reading it should be liberating. But it's not: It's a deadpan-dumb flesh book with Spanish characters who sound like Londoners. There are some semidangerous frissons to be had, but even so, plodding through this series of sex friezes is as engaging as reading a book of carpet samples.