A scorching, affectless tale of sexual servitude that shows how little has been added in the 50 years since Story of O.
Élodie is a successful Parisian lawyer who night after night leaves her husband and son waiting at home while she meets a stern, arousing but ultimately unfulfilling master who holds her in thrall for reasons she cannot understand. Her enslavement is a study in deferred gratification. In one of their earliest encounters, her nameless partner, a professional colleague, tells her: “You’ll want to scream, but you’ll be gagged. You’ll want to cry, but you’ll be blindfolded. You’ll want to run away, but you’ll be tied up.” Promises, promises: Except for the blindfold, this never happens. Nor does Élodie ever get Him to penetrate her, at least not in the way prescribed by the marriage manuals. Instead she’s condemned to an endless round of dressing in naughty lingerie, striking humiliating poses, making rendezvous and waiting in vain for him to join her, allowing her body to be violated by His probing and her compulsive dieting, accompanying Him to parties where He flirts with other women, seducing acquaintances for His pleasure and dreading the moment when He’ll give her to some male friend. Her foreboding is thickened by a psychic who warns her that she means nothing to the man who’ll destroy her happiness, an unsatisfied desire to feel Him inside her and a growing certainty that indeed He doesn’t care for her. Yet there’s no narrative impetus to Élodie’s degrading adventures and no real consequences, not even to the extent of fulfilling the psychic’s prediction that a woman will die. The result is a pillow book of tableaux that stages a dozen perverse scenes of sexual thralldom without consummation or release.
Endlessly prying fingers aside, there’s less psychological penetration than in Pauline Réage, though the language is a good deal more frank.