Life At The Sharp End It Isn't.
I read The House of Pleasure Exclusive Swingers Club by Penny Saunders, on a Kindle. Though billed as a novel, it’s more novella-length: I would say that it is rather under 40,000 words. But then at £0.77 for the e-book download, maybe that’s a fair price. There are two sequels, as yet unpublished.
The book concerns two ambitious and terminally smug young-marrieds, Emma and John Sharp. Not satisfied with the success and fast pace of their work and social lives, they have somehow found the energy and time to shoehorn in the creation of an exclusive, high end, swingers’ club, charging a $150,000 dollars annual subscription to each of its fifty members (this could be a toughie to explain to the IRS, who might see their new enterprise as being a kissin’ cousin of brothel-keeping). Because not only is Emma a hotshot defence attorney, a two-year veteran of Manhattan’s swinging scene, a Halle Berry lookalike, the wife of an equally brilliant defence-attorney husband and the proud owner of a pair of ‘magnificent’ breasts, but she’s one hell of an entrepreneur, too.
In this particular fairytale of New York, Emma Sharp is as flawless as Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, but without any spindles, Persons Of Restricted Growth, poisoned apples or sexual hang-ups to trouble her. The nearest she gets to any sort of nemesis is a swinger party DVD she foolishly leaves in her office, only for an envious colleague to find it. Otherwise we know that Emma/Halle will glide through her absurdly busy and successful life conflict-free, with judges, senior partners, husbands and swingers of both sexes all either rooting for her or – as the Aussies might say – giving her a damn good rooting.
So can an erotic novella be devoid of conflict, devoid of any complex emotions or inner turmoil, possess the moral simplicity of a children’s book and still make some sort of literary grade? I don’t think so. If our heroine succeeds in her quest from the get-go, then there really is no story. If the obstacles placed in her way are too flimsy and unconvincing, then the reader will inevitably become bored. It will be about as challenging as playing oneself at crazy-golf and… cheating.
And the sex? What about the sex? By their nature, swingers’ orgies are orchestral in their complexity and Saunders isn’t bad in the role of conductor as she zooms in and out on the detail, while at the same time attempting to give the party some sort of symphonic cohesion. But even here there are no surprises because, by and large, her minor characters have walk-on parts and, like the protagonists, are essentially fashioned from cardboard. In other words, we just don’t care about them. Not one little bit.
As the pages flicked by, I found myself wondering about the issues of self-published ‘pulp’ novels, lack of good content editing and self-indulgence. But who is being self-indulgent here, the authors when they write or their target audience when they read? You could certainly pose that question to Shades of Grey author, E.L. James. House of Pleasure is less skilfully written and, so far, I would guess, destined to be rather less successful. I don’t doubt that some will buy it; however I don’t know whether this will be for its fast-food, akin-to-reconstituted-mashed-potatoes style or its less-than-inspired, ‘pornulaic’ sex. You might argue that ‘good porn’ is an oxymoron. I would disagree. When someone writes a genre novel, be it science fiction, crime or porn, we still know if it’s good writing, bad writing or somewhere in between. It either delivers or it does not. End of story.
The House Of Pleasure Exclusive Swingers Club [Kindle Edition] Penny Saunders, Approx 112 Pages, £0.77. Available at Amazon.co.uk