Books: Devices and Desires ; Literary Pornography Usually Turns off Lisa Appignanesi, but She Warms to This Graphic Portrait of Modern Marriage

Article excerpt

The Bride Stripped Bare


Fourth Estate

pounds 15, 374pp

pounds 13 (plus pounds 2.25 p&p per order) from 0870 8001122

LITERARY PORN is an irritating genre. Vaunting transgression and laudable freedoms, it makes demands on your liberal tolerance. But it promises thrills a body of text can rarely deliver. What it does deliver is inevitably repetitive and claustrophobic: that's the nature of the ritualised animal act. Bodies on the page, pace de Sade, are rarely as interesting as the minds which drive them.

The Bride Stripped Bare is not altogether literary porn. But it wants to situate itself within the transgressive line of Story of O. This is the "brave" story of the suburban post-feminist housewife become a desiring machine. The title takes us back to Marcel Duchamp's enigmatic glass work with its stripping suitors envisioned as mechanical parts, ropes and pulleys, above them a wasp-like blob of a bride.

The trouble is that this Bride wants it all ways. Her picture comes with a lot of frames. One tells you that the novelist Nikki Gemmell felt she had to write this book anonymously because of its scandalous nature, but was outed and so decided on a "named" anonymity. Another tells you the diary was found by a father whose daughter's car and, we later learn, grandson's pushchair were discovered on the edge of a cliff after both had disappeared - either into death, or a new life. Then comes the dedication: "For my husband. For every husband". Finally, there's the diary itself, each entry a lesson prefaced by a Victorian handbook's advice to housewives.

After all this, to find the story of a good wife who isn't comes as something of a let-down. It really is common knowledge, certainly in the novel, that after a while sex in marriage is rarely as exciting as the adulterous kind. Husbands, poor old Charles Bovary most graphic among them, are dull creatures from the wife's point of view, though from the husband's, the wife is hardly more exciting. …