Book Review: Destined to Play

I have to admit something before I review this book: Indigo is a friend of mine and I have followed her exciting and short road to publication with great interest while shouting support from the sidelines and I am so happy for her. She is so lovely and has worked hard on this (written well before E.L. James became a sensation). OK… My conflict of interest is declared 🙂 Now, I have another confession to make – I’ve not read Fifty Shades of Grey, the book to which Bloom’s is compared. I also don’t think I ever will. But, I have read Destined to Play amd I read it in one session because I simply had to know what happened.

But before I proceed with my review, I just want to say something about the whole “erotica” thing – as in, erotica, as a genre or as an integral part of a novel has been around ever since Trimalchio first had his dinner party (and even earlier). From Greek writers to the Romans, to Marquis de Sade, the Victorian writers and plenty since, there has been erotic and pornographic fiction. What I am struggling with at present, is the way the “sudden” interest or mainstreaming of erotica is being represented in the media. Terms such as “mummy” or “mommy porn” are being bandied about and female readers are referred to as “desperate housewives” (as they were in a Today Tonight story last week). There is this need to somehow “tame” this interest, control it by corralling it with the use of pejoratives or reminding women of their real role – their biological imperative as mothers, the fact they belong in domestic space, thereby softening their desires and the pleasures they receive from reading erotica and the potential threat to domestic peace this arousal and interest may cause. There’s also been a need to infantilise the interest and the terms used to describe both the readers and certainly the much-touted origins of Fifty Shades reveal this. The fact it started out as Twilight fan fiction, the way readers are often shown as giggling and flushed, like women of the Victorian era who suffered hysteria and were masturbated to orgasm by doctors to make them feel better – yes, really. It’s as if these erotic books are legitimised dildos so we can “get off” and then get back to the important things in life – our “real” purpose as women. The fact reading these books is giving our male (or female) partners pleasure is also emphasised. They serve a purpose after all – it’s what female readers do to others that is ultimately the most rewarding things about these books and why they’re tolerated and promoted – they are constructed as medicinal; as literary relationship therapy!!! The salve to passionless relationships, to putting heat back in the bedroom. Puhleez! It’s been amazing to watch the way, yet again, female sexuality is seen as a cultural threat that needs to be contained, suborned and, above all, controlled. Women do actually enjoy sex and reading about it- they’re curious, sensual and delighted that with the renewed interest in this genre and its mainstreaming, they can openly discuss these desires and more.

That’s one side of the erotica coin. The other that bothers me is two-fold. One is that these books so often feature women who like to be controlled by men – who surrender their agency to a man for his and, sometimes, hopefully, their own pleasure. I find that the most confronting and confounding thing about these books – I don’t get that aspect. But because they’re fantasy and sexual fantasies particularly are all about taboo things and meant to break cultural, sexual, gender and social boundaries, I can deal with it – I don’t have to like it though and that says more about me and the milieu I grew up in the influences around me. The other thing that annoys the hell out of me is that with the popularity of Fifty Shades, we’re now seeing a race to publish as much erotica as we can to grab the readers’ dollars. Publishers are falling over themselves to grab the next EL James. Fine. Go for it. Only, I don’t want to see what happened to book shop shelves with Twilight happen again, but I fear it will. Where once there was a variety of books and genres for readers, we will see sections dedicated to erotica and our choices will be limited. There will be a sex glut. Just as entire section in stores have given over to vampire/paranormal books. On the upside, there’s been some wonderful authors come to light, on the downside, there hasn’t been and haste and the drive to meet a market before it moves on to the next big “thang” has been sacrificed for both quality and variety. As a writer and a reader I despair. Please, let’s not see bookstores fill with erotica at the expense of other great books and their writers. Let’s keep quality over quantity and preserve reading culture.

Rave over. Now for the review 🙂

This novel, Destined to Play, the first in a trilogy, tells of Dr Alexandra Blake, mother of two who lives in Tasmania in a stable but fundamentally passionless marriage. Flown to Sydney for the beginning of a few days of lectures and presentations (including one to the AMA), Alexandra’s family are conveniently dispatched to the Tassie wilderness for the duration. In Sydney at the beginning of her tour, Alexandra arranges to catch up with her best friend from university and former sexual partner, the wealthy, smoking (as in divine) George Clooneyesque, Dr Jeremy Quinn – a world leader in his field. When they meet, the old sparks ignite and Alexandra is quickly consumed but, when her former lover proposes that she surrender herself to him for forty-eight hours, leaving every decision to him, trusting him completely, Alexandra finds herself at the centre of a sexual adventure like no other and the subject of an experiment that challenges her erotically, physically, emotionally and, above all, psychologically.
While the sex is graphic and charged (as expected in this genre) what interested and challenged me as a reader most (and this is a huge credit to Bloom) is how an intelligent woman, consumate professional who has a fabulous reputation, who is also a mother and wife (therefore has responsibilities) could surrender herself so readily to Quinn. I struggled with this… But so does Alexandra, and it’s the internal,dialogue she continuously has, as well as her vacillation between the depth of her physical and intellectual responses to Quinn particularly that make the book so fascinating. Just as we wonder why she is allowing things to continue, so does Alexandra. Just as she desires answers, so do we. Taken on this dark adventure with her, we are left anxious, breathless and on edge. Playing Alexandra might be destined to do, but a game has never been so dangerous… Something the final pages of the novel makes all too clear.

Issues such as trust, sensory perception, doubt, anxiety, depression, sex and sensuality are all explored, as are the limits to which a body and mind can be brought. The book certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone, not becuase of the sex – I have read much more graphic material – but because I found it difficult to deal with a woman surrendering so completely to a man under the circumstances that Alexandra does. I also found the manipulations of Quinn to be disturbing even though his notion that motherhood and female sexuality should not be mutually exclusive appealed to me.

This is a book that will, i’ve no doubt, generate a great deal of discussion and be quite polemical. Just what an author wants. If you like erotica or books that challenge you, read this!

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