‘My Hundred Lovers’ by Susan Johnson

myhundredlovers

2012, 262 p.

I must admit that the whole Fifty Shades  phenomenon and its innumerable offshoots leaves me cold.   So it was with some trepidation that I borrowed My Hundred Lovers, hoping that a writer that I’ve enjoyed in the past would not betray me with a fleeting and warped assertion of empowerment through a string of  hot-breathed, moist, look-away sex scenes. I need not have feared. This is a beautifully written book, expanding love and sexuality to encompass the whole of life and being human.

It is written as one hundred chapters, each very short consisting rarely of more than four pages, and sometimes as little as a paragraph.  The hundred lovers here (such a daunting number!) are the spark between sensuousness and embodiment (in the sense of being in the body) and the whole range of a woman’s experiences.  There is  much for the fifty-year old reader to reflect and identify with here: the ambiguity of father/daughter physicality; the childhood sex play that I find myself looking back on and wondering about;  explorations of changing adolescent bodies; self-exploration;  sex for all the wrong reasons; sheer experimentation.  But sensuousness and being in the body is more than genitals and crevices: it’s also luxuriating in water, sand, heat; buttery croissants; it’s buildings and houses and landscapes; it’s friendship and companionship.

Unlike the sweaty, fervent erotic fiction that its title evokes, this book champions an older, wiser, more lived-in view of love.  It’s a view of love that  a fifty-year old reader does not feel disqualified from- if anything, it affirms and confirms what it sometimes takes fifty years to learn:

Love arrived smaller and more humble than advertised.  Love turned out to be plain, quotidian… She preferred herself now, less succulent and more loving, humbled, loved. (p.261)

This book is more than a list, it’s a life-story with relationships, losses, pain and confession, all measured out against the beat of passing time.  In fact, counting and taking measure is prominent here.  As she tells us in the opening sentence, romance between the average couple dies two years, six months and twenty-five days into marriage.   Most of us will live for a thousand months.  There are one hundred experiences in this book, numbered off in a countdown, and given that the book could have finished anywhere really, I found myself counting too…98, 99, 100.  Biography (including fictional biography as in this case) relies on the countdown of years and the elapse of time for its shape; unlike memoir which is an intellectual construction where time can be squeezed, stretched and compressed like clay.  This book combines the two- it is basically chronological in its structure, but events and reflection are intertwined and the whole  “100” framework is a literary and arbitrary construction.

The writing is crystal-sharp: quite an achievement in a genre that even has its own award for failure and mis-steps in the Bad Sex Awards– a dubious ‘honour’ that must surely shrivel up the juices of any writer.  Although it is completely self-contained in its own right, the author’s highly-acclaimed earlier work The Broken Book, a fictionalized biography of Charmian Clift, sits alongside it as a close companion.   They are both beautifully written, intelligent books.

My rating: 10/10

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

Read because:  I’d heard of it and very much enjoyed the author’s earlier works.  And I’ll backtrack a little and  count it for the Australian Women’s Writing Challenge 2013

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8 responses to “‘My Hundred Lovers’ by Susan Johnson

  1. Nice review Janine … I haven’t read this, though I have read two of her works including the wonderful The broken book, a book I’d really like to read again.

    • I really loved The Broken Book. I read it just after I’d read a biography of Charmian Clift (the name of which escapes me now). As I mentioned, I think that these two books speak to each other- or perhaps they just spring from the same sensibility.

  2. A beautifully written review; one that prompts me to go out and buy/read the book itself. You capture the idea of a woman’s development towards eroticism and intimacy, underlying the author’s respect for the internal struggle that is part of this.

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  5. Coming in late here Janine. I saw your ping back on AWW recent post and had to read your review as this was my favourite book of 2012. So glad you liked it too. And so far from 50 shades. Sadly anything with an erotic theme gets tarred with the same brush. Chloe Hoopers The Engagement is next o. My list and I’m really looking forward to it.

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