Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Women Unbound by Moonlight

women unbound button

I haz decided to join yet another reading challenge.  This one is for women's studies and is called Women Unbound.  Very catchy title.  There are three levels you can sign up for, and I'm going with Philogynist, which means I have to read at least two books, one non-fiction (I would have liked to sign up for more, but two books is all I think I can handle at the moment).  The good news is, I already have my one fiction book down!  But before I start with that--meme time!

1. What does feminism mean to you? Does it have to do with the work sphere? The social sphere? How you dress? How you act?

Yes, yes, and yes!  I think at its heart feminism is about women being seen as people and not just a gender.  For myself, I try to be a feminist by promoting women artists in my classes and doing research on women and women's issues in art.  For a long time, women have been invisible members of our society--we shouldn't be invisible anymore.

2. Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?

I do consider myself a feminist, but not in the proactive way--I'm not going to try to go out and be the first women to do fill-in-the-blank just because it needs doing.  I do, however, want and expect to follow my dreams regardless of whatever gender expectations there are just because I'm a woman.

3. What do you consider the biggest obstacle women face in the world today? Has that obstacle changed over time, or does it basically remain the same?

Well, I would have to say ourselves.  Not that women aren't oppressed by both societies and laws all around the world, but realistically speaking, we're at least fifty percent of the population.  If women banded together to accomplish something, I have no doubt it would get done.  The problem is recognizing what needs to be changed and passing ideas of independence and equality on to daughters/nieces/granddaughters, etc.

And now for the review portion of this post...

unbound by moonlight cover

Bound in Moonlight by Louisa Burton

Source: la bibliothèque

This is the second book in The Hidden Grotto series by Louisa Burton.  I normally do not read erotic fiction, but a few months ago I decided to try Burton because she's one of my favorite authors (previously, she wrote mysteries under the name PB Ryan, and historical roms as Patricia Ryan).  It might seem strange that I'm reviewing an erotic novel for the Women Unbound challenge, but I believe it qualifies, as I will explain later.

The Hidden Grotto series centers around a chateau in France called La Grotte Cachée, named after a mysterious cave.  The chateau is perpetually inhabited by several follets--supernatural creatures who HAVE to have sex.  Elic, an elf, is in love with Lili, a succubus.  But they can't sleep together because follets can only to do the nasty with da humanz.  Ergo, the chateau has a continuous round of visitors looking for a good time. 

The House of Dark Delights,
Burton's first book, was okay, but didn't really win me over to the
erotic romances--too much of the ick factor.  That being said, after a
few months I found myself wondering was happened to Elic and Lili, so I decided to order the next book in the series, Bound In Moonlight.

Unfortunately, Bound In Moonlight was not what I was expecting.  First off, there was very little Elic and Lili in this book at all (kind of a bummer when that's the reason I wanted to read it in the first place).  At least half of it is a short story told in epistolary format (not a big fan of that) about a former Gilded Age heiress who writes an erotic novel after visiting La Grotte Cachée.  Because the narrative is told in letter format, the erotic scenes--of which there are many--feel extremely voyeuristic.  Also, since we only have one set of letters, it's kind of like listening to one end of a phone conversation--one of the awkward ones at the grocery store where the person shopping in the same aisle as you is giving out wayyyyyy too much information.

One of the things I noticed early on in the story, however, was that Burton seemed to be drawing a parallel between sexual freedom and women's liberation--which of course makes perfect sense.  The main character, Em, is independent and comes from a debutant background.  She's all set to marry some British lord, when she finds him in the middle of a three-way at La Grotte Cachée.  She threatens to call off the engagement, he begs her to reconsider because he needs her money, and he ends up leaving her there for a few days to mull it over. 

As a result of her experiences at the chateau, Em pens an erotic romance titled Emmaline's Emancipation (EMANCIPATION, note) all about a sheltered heiress who finds freedom and confidence by visiting an English house party/bacanal.  She also takes off to Paris (after breaking it off for good with the fiance), and lives what I can only describe as a lifestyle of free love.  Plus she flies airplanes, skiis--does just about anything she wants to, really.  So I think it's clear that Burton is drawing a connection between Em's sexual liberation at the chateau and the freedom she experiences throughout her life.

This something I can definitely agree with.  Not that I'm suggesting all women need to turn into nymphomaniacs like Em (good lord, does the woman do anything other than have sex or think about sex?), but patriarchal societies definitely have a pattern of trying to contain or even debase female sexuality.  And some of who we would consider to be the earliest feminists flew in the face of these sexual restrictions--women like George Sand, George Elliot, and Mary Wollstonecraft spring right to mind.

So I got the message:  reading erotic novels=good. :P

As for the story itself, I found it a bit depressing.  Yeah, Em may be having super-hot affairs with men several years younger than her, but they don't love her.  And she doesn't love them.  Without emotion, all the sex in this book was just a total did-not-need-to-know.  I would love to read Emmaline's Emancipation, however (I was seriously hoping it was an actual book--no such luck).  Why didn't Burton write that?

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