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on 4 September 2006
I found this to be a powerful book that delved deeply into the life of a woman named Rachel who becomes involved in a sadomasochistic relationship with an emotionally distant man. Initially I felt the title referred to this s&m relationship. However, as the author reveals more of Rachel's life, it appears that there is nothing natural in her emotionally starved world. Her parents fought bitterly when she was a child. She struggles with paralyzing spells of depression and is incapable of emotional closeness. She is delightfully articulate and quick witted - an intelligent woman with a large share of emotional distress. We watch her spiraling deeper into a suicidal state and it takes a strong reader to maintain compassion. Finally her darkest hour passes, and the novel ends with her first steps towards a healthier self concept. Compelling reading and wonderful character development - a great first novel.
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on 28 October 2015
I read this when it first came out and now I am reading it again. Spellbinding.
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on 7 May 2015
This is a very disturbing book......accordingly it is very unusual.......
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on 28 May 2003
I read this as an interested participant in submissive sexual practices and although it was easy to read I found it disappointing on several scores. Firstly, the hype which Rachel's relationship with Joshua caused in all previous reviews completely blanks out the significant relationship she develops with Pete who she is teaching. Further, while submission is truly addictive this is not that well documented or explored. Lastly I could see no reasons why anyone would submit to Joshua Ableman - he has no features at all as outlined in the book, and certainly none of the features I would expect to see in any dominant partner of mine. Thank goodness we are all different.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 9 September 2009
Our narrator is Rachel, who, after a failed marriage to Michael, lives on her own with her small daughter. We learn about Rachel's unhappy childhood and then her much happier adoption by a single woman, Isobel. Now grown up and with a daughter of her own, after her marriage broke down Rachel is not looking for another relationship and prefers one-night stands, until she meets Joshua. From there the narrative takes us on a journey into a sado-masochistic affair which, to many readers will ring rather false. Joshua is a social charmer but he is into beating women and quite how such an ostensibly intelligent woman could remain involved with him is difficult to credit. As she explains it, he gives her permission to be submissive and childish - which we have been at pains to discover is not how she wants to be in the rest of her life. And there's a child, around there somewhere, though after an introduction of her at the beginning, she's never heard of again. As Rachel is never sure when her abuser will turn up, what does she do when the kid is with her?

A more convincing sub-plot describes Rachel's efforts to help a young boy in a local children's home whom she is helping to work towards some CSEs before he leaves the home. The mixture of indifference and sympathy Rachel displays in this relationship is much more convincing and logical, but there is no happy ending.

In an afterword Diski explains her puzzlement at how the novel was received by some feminists. Whilst I have some sympathy for the outrage, I can also see that suppression of fantasy sex-lives is not the answer, even in the cause of feminism. This is a contentious book largely about sexual deviance and those who baulk at the explicit should stay away.
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on 13 August 2014
very interesting read - especially with the little extra from the author.
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on 23 August 2003
I came upon this book by chance as it was part of a promotional display at my local library. I then made the unforgivable mistake of being lured into a book by the appearance of its cover.
The novel centres around the collusive sado-masochistic relationship between Rachel the main character and Joshua, a faceless individual about whom very little is revealed. I have to say I found the book unremittingly depressing. I turned the pages in vain hoping to find a glimmer of light, some redeeming feature of Rachel's personality which would lift the novel from the dreary and mundane: but no - she appeared to be a truly damaged personality with little hope of repair. I found the thread of the novel quite disjointed at times; the tone changing from a light magazine-style to some heavy, self-indulgent passages with whole-page paragraphs. Also I could not see how the section dealing with her quite different kind of relationship to Pete fitted into the overall theme of the novel: it seemed like a section from another kind of book altogether had been pasted in - it just did not seem to link up in any way.
At no time in the novel did I really see Rachel as a victim: the relationship though bizarre and often causing her pain was clearly as much under her control as his: it was plainly collusive. As the novel progressed I was intrigued to find out how Rachel would manage to maintain such a tightly controlled relationship while mentally she was so unbalanced. She was clearly terrified of intimacy and commitment of any kind and always sought the safety and refuge of her own company.
I found the farcical resolution to the novel disappointing and taking away what little hope I had left for Rachel. All in all a pretty gloomy read.
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on 16 January 2012
The only explanation I can find for this book is that it was intended as a feminist answer to "Nine and a Half Weeks," starting with the same plot but taking out the glamour, making the woman more obviously a victim, and ending with some kind of redemption where she turns the man in to the police. But it doesn't work even in those terms, because her liberation comes through some kind of split personality state where she does things without knowing it and is as surprised as anyone else at the climax. And what she shops him for is a clumsy frame-up which you can't see ever getting to court. Both the story and the earnest afterword read as if the author had a serious message to send, but it's not clear what it is.
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on 1 December 2011
This book is so totally ridiculous,this woman is in her thirties, she even has a child to look after for heavens sake!

She must meet other mothers to chat to on the school run.Then there is the weekly shopping, not to mention her actual job and reading the newspapers, watching TV etc, having fun with her daughter, making chocolate brownies with her, braiding her hair etc.In short, loads of fun things to keep an intelligent and resourceful woman happy and occupied.

But oh no,she has to mope around the house, thinking dark oppressive thoughts and waiting for some weird creepy man to turn up and beat her!

And he is fat and not even good looking! He just turns up announced. (In the real world she would be waxing her legs and he would end up with a parking ticket) And he never brings her a present ,the tight-fisted swine. Worse of all he doesn't have a sense of humour, he is too busy acting the enigma.

To be honest I couldn't get into shannigans-over-the-kitchen-table scene cos I was too distracted by thought of the lamb in the oven getting burnt. Trust me, that would never happen in our house, we are just too practical. We would never let sex get in the way of a good piece of lamb!

(Makes me wonder if Jenny Diski has ever met any normal blokes?)

Oh well, whatever floats your boat.It is all a bit depressing and upsetting for me. Nobody seems to laugh and have fun, I found it all rather de-humanising. The characters are so vile and unpleasant with no redeeming features.
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on 24 March 2013
bad news i didnt like this book and was rather upset as i thought it was going to be good. I wouldnt recommend it.
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