Anyone who is at all familiar with Singapore, in reality or reputation, will find the concept of Singaporean erotica rather difficult to believe. Who could be publishing erotica in prudish, politically restrictive, cleanliness-obsessed Singapore, where one can be fined for chewing gum or not flushing the toilet, where I once saw a movie ("Cave Girl" with a young, nubile Daryl Hannah) so severely censored that characters showed up in the credits that I'd never seen on the screen? In fact, the publishers of Best of Singapore Erotica received special permission from government censors to produce and sell this book, with the stipulation that it had to be sealed in cellophane to protect those who might be offended or corrupted by its salacious content. It was with considerable curiosity that I tore off the wrapper and began to sample what the authoritarian city-state had to offer in the way of sexy writing.
What I discovered was a collection of stories, essays and poems that help clarify why Singapore has a sex-hostile reputation. Legal restrictions on homosexuality and other "deviant" sexual acts are only the beginning. The obstacles to satisfying sex in the city-state appear to be many and formidable: ferocious upward mobility and a punishing work ethic; shortage of affordable housing, which leads to young adults living with their parents in situations with little privacy; traditional values that favor security over romance; and finally, a complex, multi-racial class hierarchy with social distances that are near-impossible to bridge.
In spite of, perhaps even because of, all these barriers, some of the authors represented in this volume do succeed in creating arousing and emotionally involving tales that I would classify as erotica. One of my favorites is Ricky Low's "Clean Sex," in which a successful young Chinese businessman falls in love with an Indonesian housemaid, only to lose her when she's accused of stealing the expensive presents he has bought for her. Another highlight is "Naked Screw" by Alison Lester, which portrays an initially confrontational but ultimately sensual encounter between a free-spirited ex-pat who likes to walk around her apartment without clothing, and a traditional South Asian laborer who claims that her nakedness offends him. Meihan Boey's "A Dummy's Guide to Losing Your Virginity," in which she chronicles her methodical approach to finding and bedding her first lover, is a clever comic gem:
"Feel free to fit us both into any convenient category of human behavior. Rest assured, I will not complain. Complaining, I find, is the refuge of the weak and unimaginative who have neither the courage to put up with shit nor the wherewithal to get out of it."
"And Then She Came," by Jonathan Lim, is a creepy yet unquestionably sexy story of a helpless student "not sober enough to be superstitious," who attracts the attention of a voracious female ghost. Aaron Ang's "A Perfect Exit" is a sweet, sentimental and finally surprising story of geriatric lust. I also enjoyed "Self-Portrait with Three Monkeys," by Chris Mooney-Singh, although it is more a character study than a story, the heroine a middle-aged career woman who consoles herself for her loveless couplings with an orgy of art. Another notable contribution is Weston Sun Wensheng's "An MRT Chronicle," a wry commentary on the trials of being young and horny in a society that offers no privacy at all.
Some of the other stories in this collection, however, made me suspect that the authors had not had much opportunity to sample currently available erotic literature. Some entries like Robert Yeo's "What We Did Last Summer," Gerrie Lim's "Walking the Dog," and Emilio Malvar's "Expeditions in the Twilight Zone," are dispassionate essays about sexual topics that are moderately intriguing but hardly engage the senses or emotions. Other tales like "Do You Have a Toothbrush?" by Lee Lien Mingmei, Rachel Loh's "Body Drafts," and Felix Chong's "Dancer from the Dance," are little more than descriptions of sexual encounters, with little if any plot. I suppose that in Singapore, the impact of simply having sex might be enough to make a story seem worthwhile, but for a reader who has been spoiled by the likes of M.Christian, Alison Tyler and Marilyn Jaye Lewis, just sex is not sufficient. Finally, there is Richard Lord's "The Phoenix Tattoos," which has the makings of an incredibly intriguing story, but which simply ends without resolution, intensely frustrating, for this reader at least.
Best of Singapore Erotica also includes a handful of poems. Most are, in my opinion, undistinguished, however Jonathan Lim's Speedo Dream is an exception, a sleek, streamlined homoerotic meditation:
i could not breathe
air whispered thinly around me
whispered sins that sounded like heaven
i longed to lick the salt off that skin
coat the smoothness with mine
All in all, Best of Singapore Erotica is uneven, but worth reading, not only for sensual thrills but also for cultural education. Although some contributions seem amateurish, the editors deserve respect for making an attempt to foster the development of erotic writing against considerable odds.
I noted that the book is available online from Amazon.com. I can't help but wonder if it arrives securely wrapped in cellophane.
A few short years ago no one would have conceived that computer games could be considered sexy. The idea of a person sitting alone, wiggling their fingers and enjoying some form of erotic stimulus wasn’t unheard of. But it didn’t apply to computer games.
Of course, if you’re still thinking of computer games in terms of Tetris or Pac Man, then you’re not going to think they are erotic. Yes, there is the satisfaction of filling an appropriate gap with your four square length in Tetris. But, if you get an erection while you’re doing this, it suggests you have serious social problems. Similarly, anyone who has found it that Pac Man “lives to swallow,” is certainly playing these games for the wrong reasons and should possibly seek professional guidance.
However, the advent of superior graphics technology, and the popularity of the RPG (Role Playing Game), are bringing contemporary reality closer to the fantastical premise that is core to the story within Samantha Brook’s Brought to Heel.
Ostensibly Brought to Heel is a story of female domination and male submission or, as it’s usually called, marriage. Josh is a nerdy computer programmer who likes dominant women. Cindy is a dominant woman who likes Josh. This marriage made in heaven is presented as an uber-erotic entanglement. Josh happily consents to becoming Cindy’s matrimonial whipping boy. Cindy happily consents to do the whipping. With the help of her workmates from the hospital, and an eclectic combination of friends and acquaintances, Cindy treats Josh to a tour de force of male submission and female domination that could be construed as any computer-besotted nerd’s "Final Fantasy."
One of the main problems with stories in fem dom/male sub genre is the tenuous balance between naughtiness and nastiness. A certain level of trust needs to be developed between characters before she can stamp on his balls and spit in his mouth without the scene coming across as a pastiche of exploitative cruelty. Samantha Brooks has managed this tightrope walk with consummate skill. Josh willingly surrenders to Cindy’s dominant nature and the balance of consensual naughtiness is consistently maintained throughout the novel.
It’s not an easy trick. The psychology of the characters in this story is complicated and, as in real life, sometimes downright contradictory. Josh is naturally submissive but this doesn’t mean he’s a weak person. Contrarily, he is strong enough to recognise his need for a dominant woman and sufficiently confident to allow her to assume full control of his life. Cindy is naturally dominant but she does not automatically assume the masterful role of being Josh’s mistress. Samantha balances Cindy’s natural desire to dominate with a pragmatic understanding that contemporary society won’t readily accept a woman with so much control over her man.
Although Cindy doesn’t vacillate as much as other stereotypical fem dom heroines (such as the annoyingly indecisive Wanda from Venus in Furs) she does show a degree of reluctance that comes across as a natural and necessary prudence. However, once she does consent to be the master of Josh’s destiny, the story becomes charged with a powerful eroticism.
Tension is brought in when Cindy introduces new characters to the relationship, adding to Josh’s excitement, developing erotic interest in their adventure, as well as satisfying her own carnal needs.
Samantha Brooks creation of Cindy is surprisingly well-drawn. Again, this is a difficult feat within the fem dom/male sub genre because the psychology of such heroines is surprisingly complex. Cindy comes across as domineering and bullying in her relationship with Josh. She keeps him in his place and controls his life with the authority of a woman born to rule. And yet she is also willing to surrender herself to other men either in the pursuit of her own gratification, or to remind her husband of his inferior status.
Ordinarily the juxtaposition of a dominant woman sexually surrendering to any man can come across as contrived or unconvincing. But Samantha manages this difficult narrative technique by repeatedly focussing on Josh’s humiliation through Cindy’s infidelity and his own exaggerated status as a cuckold.
Brought to Heel is a very contemporary story that revisits an erotic fantasy dating back to Chaucer and beyond. Samantha Brooks presents a neatly told tale, unflinching in her presentation of the domination and humiliation, with a clever twist at the denouement. If you like your men strong enough to serve and surrender, and your women weak enough to willingly wield the whip, Brought to Heel has to be this summer’s reading.
This book is a re-release. It was originally published by Black Lace in 2000, then again by Blue Moon in 2003.
Kate O’Neill impetuously takes a job in Bangkok, leaving behind her quiet life in Boston and her boyfriend, David. The trip from the United States to Thailand is just the beginning of the adventure. At her new job as a software developer, she’s introduced to the firm’s financial backer, Somtow Rajchitraprasong. Somtow is gorgeous, attentive, and utterly irresistible. He introduces Kate to the Thai view of sexuality, and shows her life on the spicy side with a taste of Thai cuisine you won’t soon forget.
Through her work, Kate also meets a demanding client, Gregory Marshall, owner of the sex club The Grotto. Marshall’s commanding demeanor alternately irritates and fascinates Kate. He’s a Master, accustomed to being obeyed. Kate isn’t quite sure why she follows his orders, but she does. He claims to know her better than she knows herself, and after a BDSM scene in a private room in his club, she begins to believe him. At each of their encounters, he brings out more of her submissive side. She flees to Singapore for a few days to think over the drastic changes in her life, but finally realizes that she can’t escape her true self.
Kate returns to Bangkok and continues her affairs with both of her new lovers. Each offers her something different. Somtow is a committed sensualist who delights in pleasing Kate’s sexual and intellectual hungers. Marshall shows her the truth about herself. Then David comes to visit, and Kate feels the need to choose between her three lovers. The men agree to let her decide, but not before each tries his best to prove he’s the best lover for her.
Do you remember when erotica was just good, wicked fun? Lisabet Sarai does. This story is a skillfully delivered romp through increasingly hot sexual scenarios. Maybe I’ve been reading too many stories full of angst and ennui, but it was such a pleasure to immerse myself in guilt-free, full-throttle, joyous sex. I don’t want to give away any of the plot, but there’s an embezzler and industrial spy, a salacious chauffer, a katoey (lady-man) go-go dancer, and one very wicked Domme, all of whom keep the story rolling along at a good pace.
There are same-sex pairings and some explicit BDSM scenes. As a warning, there is also coerced consent in one scene. You could argue that he did consent, and that he had it coming to him, but given the sex-positive tone of the rest of this story, it did make me a bit uncomfortable. However, that didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment. The Bangkok setting is fascinating and adds to the overall feeling of opulent sensuality. Lisabet Sarai deftly shows the country without ever letting the descriptions take over the story. Good BDSM novels are voyages of self-discovery, and Raw Silk is a journey you’ll enjoy taking.
The Magical Past
This erotic romance about time-travel between New York in 1961 and an ancient African matriarchal queendom is fabulous in every sense. Anyone who likes the surrealistic, voodoo-and-jazz-infused 1970s novels of African-American writer Ishmael Reed but would prefer less male chauvinism need look no further. Anyone who loved "The Wiz", the African-American movie version of The Wizard of Oz, would love the larger-than-life drama of Sorcerer. Anyone who shares Ntozake Shange’s belief that “where there is a woman, there is magic” (from her 1987 novel about three sisters, Sassafrass, Cypress and Indigo) could find confirmation in this woman-centered novel which includes strong men.
Chloe, heroine of the saga, is introduced to the reader as a young widow in Harlem who is just emerging from grief after her husband and son were tragically killed in a car accident. She has already lived enough to know that her conservative Christian mother misled her about sex, marriage and the purpose of life:
“Her baby had been her refutation to all that grimness and denial her mother had memorized and recited to her time and again, that passionate bodies together equaled sin, so that you in turn were born in sin. She had never said it to Mom, she had let Jimmy [her son] be her charming, burbling little proof that no, two people didn’t join together out of duty and then martyr themselves to raise new worshippers. . . Ecstasy, too, must be a gift from God.”
Chloe has stopped attending church, which upsets her mother and the minister. They assume she is simply rebellious because of her loss. Although Chloe does not take part in public protests against racial discrimination, she has enough intelligence and self-respect to ask her mother: “what are we doing, a whole bunch of Negroes packing into a church to pray to a God with—with what? Perfect chestnut hair and a white complexion?”
Chloe is ready for something new, even if her bitter mother (abandoned by Chloe’s father years before) does not understand. Since Chloe must support herself, she finds a job at the Marshall Historical Reference Library and Museum, a converted mansion which houses artifacts from the African and black (or Negro, in contemporary terms) American past, funded by the liberal government of John F. Kennedy. There, Chloe meets Ronald, a gentleman and a scholar.
By watching the apartment across the street, Chloe also meets a more exotic man, an African artist who paints in the nude. Ethan, who comes to the library/museum to make a far-fetched claim about several of its treasures, is as muscular and handsome as a work of art himself, and he wants Chloe. He seems at first like the perfect alternative to her lonely bouts of masturbation after work.
Sex between Ethan and Chloe is much more exciting than the married sex that Chloe remembers. It is also magical, as she discovers when her orgasms propel her into a different time and place, which seems to be the land of her dreams. Nudity is socially accepted in that other world, and so are group sex rituals, which she comes to recognize as an expression of something other than self-indulgence or “primitive” lack of self-control, as the conservatives of 1961 would see them. Most amazing of all, Chloe is treated like a queen in the other world. At first, she thinks “Queen” is simply an endearment.
Chloe is pulled back and forth between the accurately-described world of New York in the early sixties (complete with current clothing styles, television shows, jazz musicians, vinyl records and the invention of the birth-control pill) and the red earth, trees and architecture of an African nation which seems to exist before recorded time, and which has its own forms of spirituality.
Like a detective, Ronald researches “Orisha” (better known as a Yoruba word for “god” than as a place-name) to satisfy his own curiosity and to find out what Chloe is really involved in. From his first meeting with Ethan, Ronald suspects him of having a hidden agenda. Chloe assumes that the tension between the two men is simple jealousy until she learns more about Orishan politics. Even after she discovers that Ethan also exists in that other world as a courtier named Ethannes, she can’t be sure what or whom to believe.
Ethan introduces Chloe to Maurice, a strange man who runs a dusty “shop” of magical supplies. According to Ethan, he practices “Orishan” magic, but according to Ronald, he is a priest of Haitian voodoo. How do these spiritual practices differ? Could there be any overlap?
Like a queen who must make decisions of state under pressure from opposing advisors, Chloe must decide fast what to think and what to do because time is running out in the other world. Snooping through Ronald’s research material, Chloe finds the story of Makeda, the queen of Sheba (Ethiopia), who has an affair with Solomon, king of Israel.
According to the legend, their son goes to visit his father at age twenty, and when he returns to his homeland with the sons of his father’s courtiers, one of them steals the Ark of the Covenant and hides it somewhere in Ethiopia, where it is still said to be. Chloe is amazed to find this story about a powerful African queen and her connection with a Hebrew kingdom summarized in a passage from the King James version of the Bible. As Ronald repeatedly explains, much of history has been buried and distorted, so discovering the truth is a matter of sifting through the evidence.
The emphasis on heterosexuality in this novel seems logical in terms of the traditional mission of an Orishan (or Ethiopian?) queen: to find the best possible mate to father the child who will inherit her throne and (if necessary) save the nation from its enemies. Ethan, Ronald, and a villain in the other world all want to mate with Chloe, and they each have different motives.
As in more conventional romances, the heroine’s choice of a male consort is crucial. However, Chloe’s sensuous relationship with her best friend and chief lady in waiting in Orisha shows that she is not homophobic. The scenes of sex involving multiple players in this novel are both hypnotic and believable.
The author does an impressive job of keeping two parallel plots moving forward, although the past literally crashes into the present when the crisis in Orisha becomes urgent. The crisis is both political and ideological, and is all about the significance of pleasure as well as the status of women. Will the marvelously uninhibited, life-loving culture of the African past be destroyed forever?
Although modern readers think they know the answer to that question, the author manages to throw in a few miracles to change an outcome that seems inevitable. The increasing velocity of time-travel in the last few chapters is dizzying and somewhat over-the-top, but the author’s imaginary world is true to its own laws.
By the last chapter, Chloe has become consciously aware of living in the twentieth century as well as in the distant past, and she can choose where to be at any moment. She and her mother have not yet completely reconciled, but Chloe has opened her Mom’s eyes to an alternate reality. Loose ends have been tied up, and Chloe has found her faith.
The author seems as intriguing as her heroine: “Tamzin Hall was born in Florida but has spent many years as a nomad, having lived in Ghana, Belgium, Italy, the Bahamas and Brazil. She now calls London home and manages a small but popular jazz nightclub while studying languages.” Way cool.
The knowledge and skill which went into this novel suggest that Tamzin Hall might have written other material under other names. In any case, this reviewer looks forward to her next book.
I want to like JJ Giles’, The Mistress and the Mouse. I do, or at any rate I want to forgive the novel its shortcomings. It has such a great title for example. How provocative is the idea of a mistress and her mouse? It’s hot stuff. Giles shows a real ability at endless plot complication creating a narrative line that literally winds wheels in various directions within wheels like string theory. Basically, we are introduced to a family of super-mega-rich billionaire deviants who do and undo each other through and between their generations. They pay for this life style with the ill-gotten gains of “old money” leveraged rapaciously by the family investment bank.
Never mind that such institutions are creatures of the 1980s. This one has been doing arbitrage since 1900 or before, and they have the creepy family portraits to prove it. Never mind that Grandpa was also, as everyone calls him, “the Spawn of Satan.” We are up to a new generation who beat and malign each other with such ferocity that the hospital is the logical end to a chic night on the town. Better still, the characters all share one genuine belief, which is that the rich are entitled to it all. What’s more, Giles seems to agree.
However loathsome these people become, their credit rating places them above the unwashed. In fact, when they want revenge, they either literally kill you, or, worse still, destroy your credit rating. When they are not doing that, they are pawing through their endless supply of psychosexual torture devices. This novel is an amazing catalogue of S/M practices, personality traits, appliances, rituals, toys, games, furniture, hand tools, incidental gear, and couture. One wonders at times why there is not a catalogue of Internet suppliers at the back to tell you where to buy all this stuff. You could wear it while you read on and on and on.
There is no method of testicular twist untried, no anal invasion omitted, no vaginal dilation or osculation deleted from this lengthy exploration of what the two genders, separately and together, can insert, impale, irrigate, penetrate, strike down, and gin up in painful extremis. If that were not enough, necrophilia and incest as well as a heavy larding of imaginative, exquisitely manic “sex therapy,” all find their way into the book.
The downside, or sides, of The Mistress and the Mouse are two: paper thin characterization and an appalling mastery of literary style. Oddly enough, the style seems to be responsible for the weak characterization, and Giles is not the only offender there.
Simple examples include a character who is “ruptured” by his orgasm. A guy, having lured the object of his desire into his “habitat” finds her presence has “thrilled him beyond repair.” Everyone in the sex therapist’s clutches is subject to her “furious punishment,” and that’s a carload of people. The thought of some sexual humiliation to one of her rich clients causes her to “swell with laughter.” All these jarring blunders in diction are made worse because they seem quite intentional. They are offered to enhance the pseudo-medical atmosphere of this book. The worst of these is a man who experiences “affixiation” during orgasm.
Affixiation is carbon monoxide poisoning which produces extreme weakness, nausea, paralysis, and other painful symptoms. It’s not that romantic and produces a very unpleasant death from say, sucking on car exhaust. What Giles means is “asphyxiation.” That is the reduction of oxygen to the brain, which in some people enhances their experience of orgasm. It’s not much more alluring to me, but it sure beats nausea and death.
Once you get used to all these redundancies and malapropisms, you are left wondering about the editing. Any sentence structure or awkward elaboration of tense is not only there but seemingly encouraged. Is it sexier to be tangled in the sheets in a mangled version of the pluperfect subjunctive? Apparently so to Giles, but I have to ask, “Where was the editor here?” Giles is not talentless and the people at LYD publishing have shelled out more than a few bucks to make this a handsome and readable book.
At over six hundred pages, it is a daunting thing to read much less edit, because you soon become aware that you will never sort out the plot but why bother? Still an editor with any craft could have caught the obvious, ham-fisted clunkers and paired away a large measure of the ineptitude of what clearly seems to be a first novel, or novels, crammed between the covers of the book. In short, it does not need to be 600 plus pages long and would be better without almost half of that.
The primary sign of that is that Giles introduces a new character or plot twist during every French scene in the first hundred pages. What’s more, most of those scenes are very short. The tweaks tend to come back for embellishment, but the characters never sustain any growth.
Who are these people? Who knows? They live in some place that is a couple of hours from Lake Erie, but it also seems to be as sunny as LA and has a gaudy hotel called the Fontainbleau a la Miami Beach. They have the sensibilities of Vegas right-to-work pit bosses, and the tastes of the cretins in Dallas. They fuck on one set of sheets and then have to change beds so they are not sullied by their own erotic effluvia in order to sleep or fuck some more.
At base they are down home, redneck, I-don’t-know-nothin’ DUMB. They are part of no culture other than one of endless, pointless, acquisition. They seem to be illiterate and have no interest in anything but a relentless, feckless obsession with themselves. Intellectually cemented into their sense of entitlement, they are beyond redemption. In short these are the aristocrats that Robespierre confronted. He had the good sense to cut the discussion short by cutting them a foot shorter, and you long for that to happen to most of these leather-clad dorks. One can see them insisting on designer tumbrels to ride to their own executions.
The center of this novel is Morgan McFaye, the sex therapist, hooker, and sometime maniac around whom the novel oozes. The author is forever flirting with this name as a variation of Morgan Le Faye, the scheming witch in “Le Morte D’arthur.” The medieval figure was the half-sister of Arthur who was forever engaged in assorted schemes and manipulations. Giles has only the dimmest understanding of the attendant literary tradition to that character...and none at all of literature in general.
Morgan McFaye intones interminably about the paltry wits of the heterosexual male who is so easily manipulated. In the time-honored tradition of third rate S/M fiction, she goes on about how easily males are struck dumb by a nice ass, or a handsome pair of tits or, better still, the right feminine toss of the hair, or piercing look of startling ferocity. It is to yawn.
“Men,” Morgan thinks to herself, “How easy it is to turn them into babbling babies ready to acquiesce to every desire.” Ponderous alliteration left aside, Morgan has exchanged nasty, shallow prejudice for insight. Whereas her chief male client/slave says, “How horribly subtle women can be,” the operative word here being ‘horrible.’ Some men are paralyzed by pussy. That’s true, but not all of them. What Morgan believes is that men are struck dumb and helpless by female sexual power. What she misses completely is that men can think about more than one thing at a time, and they are not patient.
Yes, men are struck dumb by their attraction to women and, in the case of bisexuals, to each other. What’s to talk about, anyway? They look and imagine the possibilities. On the other hand, they have other things to do, and if nothing is going to come of this flirtatious exchange, they move on. Why not? More importantly, no matter how hot a woman may look, if she is dumb, mean, or dumb and mean, it’s not worth the trouble after a man passes the age of 17. Men don’t move on because they have short attention spans. They don’t like to waste time, and they just don’t get fixated as easily as Morgan would like to believe.
How did Morgan arrive at these professional beliefs? She learned to be a sex therapist of course. How? “I went to California for a year.” Enough said, yes, California, the mythic home of the plastic blonde, with the brain from the Pleistocene era. In fiction of this sort California is always the source of credentials for the latest form of psycho-blabber. What is more, this novel is riddled with psychological catch phrases and assorted flimflam that displaces, the author hopes, any need for a real explanation of why these characters think and behave the way they do. Therapy here, as it often is in reality, is that dark, humid, bio-fungal place between the poles of art and science, where nothing of much use grows.
However much one may disdain Marcel Proust, the difference between his long eroto-decadant portrait of bourgeois life in the 1890s and The Mistress and the Mouse, is simple. His epic is based on the reportage of nuance that shows a deep appreciation of the senses and the thoughts they separately evoke in his many characters. The body, with its attendant sexual drives and yearnings, is the filter of what is real.
Proust’s entire prose edifice is built upon the taste of a Madeleine, a butter cookie. A Madeleine is a fragile thing that is at once a combination of freshly baked butter and a background whiff of lemon. Fresh and hot from the oven, it is as sexy as anything in human life because it is so fully there in all its elegant simplicity upon the tongue. Like flowers, they do not keep. When cold and forced, they are dry and disgusting.
Inside The Mistress and the Mouse, there is a novel and an interesting one. But writing is not mass production. It is not a trade, nor is it a craft. It is an art form. It demands that you must know what has come before you, which Giles does not. You may accept or reject that heritage, but you cannot supplant it with gimmickry from trumped up disciplines like sex therapy. More importantly, you must know and say something of the world, and that perforce means the world that extends beyond the hermetic environs of excessive and abusive privilege.