The world, it seems, has gone 50 shades of porn-mad, causing a flood of copycat erotic fiction to hit the market. Most of it is in the same vein as the atrociously written Fifty Shades, so it was only a matter of time before one made its entry onto the higher end of the literary shelf.
Susanna Freymark’s debut novel, Losing February, is marketed as “a story of love, sex and longing”. A story of love without sex, and sex without love. The cover seems to be designed to set it apart from those books that clearly fall into the erotic porn category, but make no mistake, this is hard-core erotic fiction for women.
The book is split into two parts. The first is “love”, the second “sex”. It tells the story of attractive, 40-something Bernie, and her obsessive love for an old friend, Jack, who comes back into her life shortly after her divorce. While Bernie is free, Jack is still married and is torn between the two women in his life. While he engages in a fevered exchange of emails, letters and poetry with Bernie, the two rarely meet in person, and Jack refuses to commit technical adultery by having sex with her.
Jack is convinced he can turn their relationship into a legitimate friendship and keep both women happy. But this only adds fuel to Bernie’s low self-esteem and the sense of rejection her divorce caused.
Filled with self-hate, Bernie begins to trawl internet chat rooms and the world of online dating, but soon that isn’t enough and she starts pursuing ever-more-dangerous encounters in an effort to feel desired.
Losing February isn’t a bad book, but nor is it great. While the prose is infinitely more competent than that of Fifty Shades and others of its ilk, there are glaring problems. Firstly, the “love” story is just not compelling. Perhaps this is because Jack is rarely “on stage”, and most of what the reader experiences is Bernie’s musings about their love; there is a sense of being told a story, rather than experiencing it. However, this first section really exists only to set up and justify the second section on sex – if Bernie didn’t hate herself, why would she allow herself to be used and abused so badly?
Although the second half is much more fantastical, it is also more compelling. This is where the writer’s talents shine, but unfortunately it is within a storyline that denigrates the female narrator. Some of the scenes border on rape, but Bernie never recognises it, instead immediately going back for more.
While there is definitely a place for erotic fiction, it’s disappointing that it continues to portray women as victims, rather than simply enjoying sex because it’s a good and natural part of life. Losing February is a more high-brow attempt at the erotic genre, however, and may appeal to those who like their erotica a little more on the classy side.
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