The subtitle “An Erotic Novel,” makes it clear what to expect from Becker’s first novel, translated from its original French: Fifty Shades of Grey sex weighted (or balanced depending on one’s taste) with literary pretentions.
In this metafiction, Ellie, who shares the author’s last name, writes a novel about her 10-month affair with the married Parisian surgeon she refers to as Monsieur. Ellie took her first lover, a 30-year-old, when she was 15. Now 20, a literature student living at home, Ellie pursues 46-year-old Monsieur before actually meeting him because her uncle has mentioned in passing his medical colleague’s interest in erotic literature. After Monsieur responds to her email sharing her similar interest, they carry on a sexually explicit if highly intellectual conversation through emails, texts and phone calls. Ellie is soon meeting him for Tuesday morning trysts in a hotel room. As a sign of trust, they do not use protection against STDs, despite their lack of exclusivity, or hygiene. Few will be surprised to learn that he dominates her in various ways, and she enjoys the submission, at least at first. He lets her visit him at the hospital, where their desire must be contained, barely, in front of others. Initially, she is not crazy about the anal sex—and there is a lot of anal sex—but she grows to love it. The descriptions of what goes where, particularly his hands and her “arse,” the ecstatic nature of pain and desire, domination and submission, are evocative but get repetitive after awhile. Soon, his limited time to spare becomes a problem as her physical obsession grows. Her purely sexual interest becomes more emotional than she wants to admit. Refusing to break off completely, he seems to play with her dependence, but perhaps he is as secretly obsessed as Ellie. It is hard to say because Ellie admits she learns almost nothing about him. Neither does the reader, who will find Ellie herself increasingly sad.
Ultimately, Ellie’s novel is erotic, prurient and kind of boring.