I’ve a certain admiration for the Marquis de Sade, not for his politics, his philosophy or his sexual peccadilloes, but simply for his magnificent ending to Justine. It’s just so gloriously overindulgent. It’s also one of the funniest things I’ve ever read, which perhaps says more about my sense of humour and lack of regard for Justine, than it does for de Sade’s work.
I’m pleased to say that the principle character, Justine, in Lisette Ashton’s latest novel, Forbidden Reading makes a far more likeable heroine than her namesake. She is neither painfully stupid, or obsessed with her virtue, just a sexy submissive on a quest for a book she truly desires: La Coste, supposedly de Sade’s most disturbing work. To acquire it, Justine must prove herself worthy by facing the extremes of punishment and pleasure at the hands of the members of The Society, a collective of hedonists and perverted heathens dedicated to exploring the arts of sacrilege, sadism and subversion. Cue horny priests, stern mistresses, and orgiastic delights.
While much of the book is pure homage to de Sade, and Justine seems to drift along with what’s happening with few questions as to where this is all taking her, there are also moments of genuine reflection and emotional attachment. The lesbian relationship she develops with a particular French penitent offers an insight into her real motives and feelings, as well as providing some softer moments. It’s not a romance by any stretch, but the heartfelt simplicity of the relationship in the midst of all the sexual excess does render it that bit more poignant.
I can honestly say I liked Ms Ashton’s, Justine, who is submissive without falling into the trap of being a vacuous bimbo or hopelessly naive. Instead, she is intelligent enough to know what she is, and how to enjoy the opportunities offered her. She also deserves her far kinder ending.
While I enjoyed Forbidden Reading, I will say that this isn’t a book for everyone. It really caters for a niche market that enjoys its sex with lashings of pain, humiliation and blasphemy. If these aren’t your things, choose something else, because this is what Forbidden Reading dishes out aplenty. If they are, give Justine and her quest a go. It’s fun escapism, a bit tongue in cheek, well written and manages to deliver a few twists along the way.
Nexus is the UK’s longest running imprint of erotic fiction and consistently delivers quality fiction with an unusual slant and Forbidden Reading is no exception.
© 2006 M. Ellis. All rights reserved.