IN THE ANNALS OF EROTIC LITERATURE, a subject that consistently draws women writers of a certain ilk—smart, literate, and tough-minded—is sexual submission. (The Germans, leave it to them, have a word for this kind of abjection: Hörigkeit.) There is something about the theme of a relational power imbalance, of inequality in the bedroom, that seems to exert a fascination in quarters that one wouldn’t ordinarily expect. I am thinking, of course, of Story of O, but also of Marguerite Duras’s The Lover, Mary Gaitskill’s Bad Behavior, the pseudonymously penned Nine and a Half Weeks (a spare and inexorable account that bears little resemblance to the movie based on it), Edith Templeton’s Gordon, and Toni Bentley’s The Surrender.
One of the most memorable novels I have read in this genre came out in 1986, to no great attention or acclaim except from those of us who were instantly captivated by the author’s intelligence and writing skill. It was called Nothing Natural, and it was in fact the first book by the English writer Jenny Diski, who would go on before she died in 2016 to achieve literary renown for her other books and particularly for her essays in the London Review of Books. I noticed the novel because it was published in the same year as my own first novel, Enchantment, and, I would assume, because I read a review of it somewhere—perhaps in a British publication. I was instantly drawn to its tawdry and subversive doings because they spoke to my own erotic tastes at the time.
BookForum | June, July, August 2017.