You may recall that this month I am taking part in a bloggers’ read along of the book My Hundred Lovers by Susan Johnson.
Here’s a bit of the blurb: A woman, on the eve of her fiftieth birthday, reflects on one hundred moments from a lifetime’s sensual adventures. After the love, hatred and despair are done with, the great and trivial acts of her bodily life reveal an imperfect, yet whole self. 
Yesterday was our first discussion and among other things, we considered our response to the book and some of the following questions.
  • How do you feel about Deborah? Do you like her? Can you relate to her? Did you feel sympathy for her? If so, why and if not, why?
  • Do you think that her upbringing and her parents’ fractured relationship sent Deborah on a path of looking for acceptance and love, often in the most unlikely and unfortunate places?
  • Does she use sex as a way to find or feel love?
You can find the full discussion at the host blog: All the Books I Can Read. However, it does contain SPOILERS, as do my comments below. Some of my comments do refer to other people’s on the full discussion post.
Write Note’s Comments:

I realise I’m jumping on to this discussion quite late in the piece, so forgive me if in my long-winded way I am just saying “ditto” to many of the previous comments.

I’m finding this book quite unusual for a number of reasons. Bree, you are right to sum it up as frank, or “brutally honest”. It surely is that, particularly when she describes sex – a few of the descriptions were disquieting for me – the 7 year old Deborah masturbating and her sexual play with Nina Payne for example. I did find it confronting that so many experiences were sexualised, such as when Deborah’s mother scratches her back. I used to do that for my son and he clearly got pleasure from it. But sexual pleasure? I don’t even want to go there… it could be argued that the sensual pleasure she felt is different from a sexual pleasure – but then I read the sentence again “my whole body arched in an ecstatic involuntary shiver”. I agree with Tracy: Deborah’s sexual curiosity did seem liberal.

Yet, while in many aspects the book is direct, it also wavers from almost clinical and detached prose to the more intimate in terms of sensory experiences. There are some beautiful passages about “grass”, “sunshine” that are almost deconstructive – these first experiences are pulled apart into feelings and senses: “she heard the shackled nature growing, trying to revert to what it wanted to be”.

Like Stephanie, I felt overall that the book was quite emotionally distant – to the point where it did affect the way I felt about the main character. I knew a lot about her, but I didn’t know her. She stops short of pulling me in and feeling like I really understand her. The moments of “closeness” I did feel were just as quickly shut down, reverting to those clinical descriptions that that were at times off-putting in their directness. It’s almost like she wants to shock. To make up for her supposed lack of physical beauty by drawing attention in other ways, by shocking. Do I like her? I don’t know yet. I can’t decide.

I also noted the use of “the girl” and wondered if there was a pattern to it. Susan, your suggestion that “the girl” infers a type of everywoman is interesting. I hadn’t seen it that way. I saw it more as a continuation of the detachment from emotion. Several times when Deborah refers to “the girl” she refers to her family, especially her mother and her first husband; on those occasions it seems that she is disconnecting, or dissociating, herself from any hurt or other emotion she may be harbouring towards them or those particular memories. Yet, when she refers to things like her first physical lover, her mouth, words and so on, she is confident to use the first person. Those are not memories she needs to distance herself from.

If you have read the book, or are reading it now, I’d love you to post your comments here.


Monique Mulligan

Monique Mulligan

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