Friday, December 6, 2013

Review: The Bride Stripped Bare by Nikki Gemmell

Ever since the runaway success of 50 Shades of Grey, the (re)discovery of erotica has been foremost in the book world. People ask me all the time if I've read that book and what I might have thought of it. And they seem surprised that someone who reads incessantly wouldn't have read it. But when I try to explain that I have in fact read erotica before (and long prior to this new trend), then the consensus is that I would want to read something far more literary as if there is no such thing as literary erotica, no author like Anais Nin. Of course, there is, and there are authors like Nikki Gemmell, whose ten year old novel The Bride Stripped Bare is another example of literary erotica, a sexually charged book with a purposeful concept behind its erotic explorations.  But perhaps my past experiences should have prepared me for the fact that even literary erotica misses the mark for me.

Opening with a note from the main character's mother offering the enclosed diary or set of lessons as a book to be published anonymously in the wake of the eponymous bride's unexplained disappearance, the note itself sets up the purpose of the narrative: a woman no longer content in the sexless and passionless existence of her marriage who opens herself up to find herself as a sexual being through an affair and anonymous encounters. As such, this purports to be an exploration of the secret interior life of all women, to show what women want from men, to examine their unstated sexual desires, and to serve as an awakening for all wives but also for all husbands. Told in short vignette-like chapters illustrating purported life lessons, the main character remains anonymous and addresses the reader in the second person as she tells her own story. In short, the bride of the title has recently married and on her delayed honeymoon with her new husband, Cole, discovers that he and her best friend Theo have some sort of relationship to which she has never been privy. She's convinced he's having an affair despite his fierce denials and a slow freeze sets into their marriage. But this freeze is simply the culmination of a long standing situation as it turns out that lust, consideration, and communication have been leaking out of their relationship since long before their mostly platonic marriage took place.

And so begins the unnamed bride's quest to discover for herself, outside of her withering marriage, what she wants sexually. She meets and embarks on an affair with the gorgeous, virginal Gabriel, setting herself up as his teacher in all things sensual, and striving to make their connection purely physical, entirely devoid of emotional attachments. As Gabriel learns to pleasure her, she learns just what pleasures her as well, taking this knowledge back to Cole and working to reinvigorate their marriage in the bedroom.

Despite what it may sound like, the book itself is actually not terribly titillating and as a reader, I was most bothered by the fact that without the bedrock principles of trust and honesty, our bride narrator still wants to save her emotionless marriage thinking that sex with strangers will do just that. Although the second person, direct address is meant to personalize the situation for the reader, making her feel as if the tale is revealing the reader's own secret life as well as the bride's, this conceit doesn't quite work unless you posit that all women secretly fantasize about infidelity and rough group sex. Oddly enough, as casual as the bride is about revealing her desires to her diary or in this manuscript and to those men she chooses to pleasure her, she is remarkably prude and silent about exploring her own sexuality with her husband. Both the main male characters, her husband and her lover, are incredibly one dimensional and her conflicts with her mother and former best friend never quite reach the sort of passion they should either, leaving the whole tone strangely flat. Definitely a curious read, in some ways this might be a liberating sort of story for some and Gemmell can certainly write well but there's no actual plot to hang this awakening and affair on and that's a problem when it also doesn't really stand for the revelation of all (most?) women's unspoken desires, as it purports to do.

For more information about Nikki Gemmell and the book, check out her website or her Facebook page. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for inspiring me to pull my copy of this book off the dusty shelves and to get it read and reviewed.


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