Erotica exists to fuel fantasy. PhD student Laura understands this only too well. Her extensive collection of BDSM lesbian erotica might be valuable in its own right, but Laura cherishes her books mostly because they are the closest she can get to the experience of surrendering to a powerful and demanding mistress. She lives in a sexual vacuum, a submissive without a dominant to serve, until Adele, a university acquaintance, offers to introduce Laura to her own mistress Jeanne.
Wealthy, stylish, cool and self-assured, Jeanne embodies all Laura's fantasies. Laura quickly realizes that her reading has hardly prepared her for the realities of a D/s relationship. Jeanne tests both Laura's patience and endurance. The young graduate student makes mistakes. She disappoints and occasionally disobeys her mistress. However, Laura's intelligence, enthusiasm and unfailing trust gradually convince Jeanne to accept her service. The dominant pushes Laura to new limits, discovering an unusual level of personal satisfaction in her interactions with the novice sub.
Jealous, insecure and vindictive. Adele turns out to be the snake in this BDSM paradise. Her machinations ultimately threaten not only Laura but Jeanne as well. In confronting Adele and her cohorts, Laura and Jeanne draw closer to one another, building a relationship based not only on the exchange of power but also on love.
The Collectors is a fast, smooth read, written in clear, unpretentious prose. Laura's first person narrative allows the reader to taste her excitement and uncertainty when she gets the opportunity to trade fantasy for reality. Jeanne is appealingly flawed, so sure of herself that she's astonished when the Society of doms and subs that she founded turns against her. Unlike some fictional dominants, she is far from omniscient. Expert at reading the reactions of a submissive, she's barely in touch with her own deeper needs. Her emotional susceptibility to Laura seriously disturbs her.
Despite these positive factors, overall I found this book unconvincing and a bit shallow in its portrayal of BDSM. Laura's submission was just too easy, with none of the fear or conflict I would expect from a total beginner. Jeanne's immediate attraction to Laura also struck me as implausible. Most importantly, I didn't personally feel the intensity of most of the BDSM scenes in the novel. The narrator tells us that she's aroused, that her deepest desire is to please her mistress, that she's just had the most explosive orgasm in her life, but somehow I couldn't identify. Something about the exposition seemed to distance me from Laura's emotions.
Laura repeatedly emphasizes the difference between the erotic books in her collection and the actual experience of submission. In fact, many of the scenes in this novel follow common BDSM literary formulae. There's even a luxurious country house, a sort of modernized Roissy, where lesbian dommes bring their subs to share with one another and where new members of the shadowy Society are initiated.
Finally, some of the BDSM activities in this book struck me as unrealistic and even unsafe. In one scene, Jeanne binds Laura in a contorted position and then uses her as a footstool while watching two movies in a row – a duration of more than four hours. This would surely cause damage due to constricted blood flow. In another segment, a sub is suspended above the floor in a backwards-bowed position by a rope that pulls her head back by her ponytail. Perhaps this is feasible, but it sounds like a recipe for spinal damage to me. After spanking, caning, bondage and ass-fucking, Laura mentions that she's “sore” - I would have expected that she could barely move.
Of course, BDSM erotica focuses on fantasy, not fact, and sometimes requires a suspension of disbelief. Extreme scenarios can be a powerful turn-on, even when they could never really be enacted. If a reader stops to take note of an unrealistic or dangerous scenario though, that shatters the erotic illusion. This occurred more than once for me as I was reading The Collectors.
It may be that my standards for BDSM erotica are more exacting than some readers'. Overall, though, I found The Collectors to be something of a disappointment.