THE STORY OF O is a truly special work of literary art. For many of us, this was our introduction into a world that we didn't know existed outside of our own twisted minds. It was the first sign that we weren't freaks, or at least there were other freaks in the world, and we weren't alone.
There are aspects to this tale that may shock some people, or leave them with an unpleasant feeling after finishing it. And because of this, I believe it is important to understand why this book was written. THE STORY OF O was written by a French journalist named Anne Desclos (Dominique Aury) as both a love letter and the answer to a challenge by her boyfriend. He was an admirer of De Sade's erotica, and claimed that a woman could not write good erotica.
In the tradition of De Sade, she wrote a story of a young woman's descent into sexual degradation. O falls deeper and deeper until she reaches bottom and there is nowhere left to go, nothing left to do. What makes it truly stand out from De Sade and other male authors is the utterly feminine twist to the story: it is not lust that drives O down this path, but love: her love for Rene, at first, and later for Sir Stephen. O is a metaphor for Desclos' love for her lover, the whips and chains symbolize the strength of her devotion to him. The ending represents her fear of her lover tiring of her and abandoning her for a younger woman. (This is a very simplified explanation, there are several excellent essays of the various interpretations of the symbolism in this book, and can be found by doing a search for `The Story of O'.)
Desclos' lover was so impressed by her story he encouraged her to seek publication. And so she did, using the pseudonym, Pauline Reage. The novel was a near instant success, and for forty years no one knew the true identity of the writer and there were countless theories and rumors. Credit was given to numerous authors, some of them men. Just before her death in 1998, Anne Desclos revealed that she was the mysterious Pauline Reage.
When I first read this novel I had very strong mixed feelings about it. On one hand I was entranced by it. It was incredibly hot, but it was also elegant. This was not pornography meant to be read once and thrown away. The elegant prose, and unashamed, cultured voice told a story of a love so deep death was preferable to its loss, while simultaneously teasing with taboo elements `good' people did not speak of.
But I hated the end. O's masters didn't deserve her. I wanted to rewrite the ending, make O kick those jerks to the curb and run off with her girlfriend. And it disturbed me, because I've known women in my life that would go that far to keep a man from leaving, and they always ended up betrayed and abandoned in the end, too. THE STORY OF O inadvertently illustrates a terrible truth of womanhood, and it's easy to forget that the author wasn't trying to make a statement. She was merely telling a story, not advocating abuse or codependency.
TSOO is an erotic fantasy, nothing more. You'll get the most enjoyment out of it if you just allow it to be what it is and try and avoid reading into it any deeper messages. And if it's still not your cup o' tea, well, that's fine, too. I'm sure there are countless other books that will be. For the rest of us, this book is something special and will always be treasured despite, or maybe because of, the controversy surrounding it.