Well, whaddya know? Sasha Grey, one of Hollywood’s most successful porn stars, has packed it in to try her hand at novel-writing. And it ain’t half bad. What begins tentatively as a treatise on film studies develops into a pacey, driven narrative which only very occasionally loses its way.
Catherine, a young film student, is slowly initiated into the eponymous society after feeling her sex life is lacking. She’s coerced into this by bolshie friend Anna, who explains her own affair with their college professor in a frankly baffling chapter which sees him climbing into wardrobes, like some sort of bastardised Narnia, or a shot from Blue Velvet. For any film buff, The Juliette Society is awash with cute asides, nods to famous scenes and tropes, and often whole sections spent in discussion of films like Belle de Jour. The masked sex club Catherine eventually attends is reminiscent of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, with all its darkly sinister sexual promise.
Less palatable are bouts of lazy, clipped sentence structure and a vague, under-developed secondary plot strand which doesn’t provide the resolution I think Sasha was after. Similarly, well-trodden images recur throughout:
When I’m tied up, at first, I feel this tingling sensation all over my body, like an electrical current going through it. My fingers and toes go numb from being so tightly constricted, then this intense burning heat spreads along my arms and legs. Just pain on pain.
I mean, call me old-fashioned but this just doesn’t sound like much of a laugh to me. The novel might have benefitted from drawing the line at the more simple premise of an exclusive sex club, without dragging in the 50 Shades of Nonsense hype the BDSM market is milking for all it’s worth.
But this is a winner within its genre, and paints a fascinating portrait: of both an increasing sexual undercurrent and the implications of this. It builds suspense nicely, leading to a not-altogether expected denouement. A good crack for Sasha Grey, we say.
Published by Little, Brown 9th May 2013; paperback original price £7.99