I loved the Belle de Jour books and have just got round to reading The Sex Myth, Brooke Magnanti‘s non fiction critique of contemporary attitudes on sexuality. As you’ll see I disagree with many of her conclusions, but the book is fascinating and beautifully written and, on many big questions, she gets it right. We haven’t totally outgrown Victorian puritanism and morbid assumptions – one example, particularly annoying for me, is the convention that men are only interested in getting laid, while women only submit to the whole beastly business because it allows them to start a family. There is the elitist view, also shared by the Victorians, that the masses can’t ‘handle’ erotica and need to be protected from it, just as they need to be protected from alcohol and tobacco.
Finally Magnanti discusses The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s novel of puritan totalitarianism. In her novel Atwood explores the convergence between religious fundamentalist and rad-fem politics and, as Magnanti explains, ‘People in the middle, who had no particular investment or opinion either way, got caught in the resulting military dictatorship.’ It’s a powerful study about the unforeseen consequences of political activism, the unconscious enabling of authority and power, the way that people, with the best possible intentions, can sleepwalk into totalitarianism. Be careful what you wish for, Atwood says. It’s something many people have either forgotten or never learned, but Dr Magnanti’s book is also in its way a testament to Atwood’s warning.
Update: Michael Ezra has picked me up on a point.
Also, in articles, here’s my recent piece on the new Raymond Chandler bio.