Friday, November 03, 2006


I have something to confess. As mentioned in this blog, earlier this week I was at a loss for something to read. I was talking with some friends about trashy romance fiction and conversation wended its way around to The Bride Stripped Bare, the 'confessional' novel by an anonymous author (who was revealed to be Australian writer Nicki Gemmell even before the novel was in shops). There was a lot of publicity around this novel when it was released in 2003. It sounded abominable: young housewife reveals, and proceeds to live out, her secret sexual fantasies. The scandal around the leaking of Gemmell's identity was a huge turn off at the time. It reeked of an attention-seeking publicity stunt; why not publish under a pseudonym if she didn't want to be identified? It would have created a lot less curiosity. Gemmell played right into the media's hands with her many outraged and tearful interviews. Again, at the time, I thought, why not just lay low and refuse interviews? Perhaps that would not be as helpful for sales?

So at the time when everyone was reading The Bride Stripped Bare, I stayed well clear. However with my ability to concentrate at an all time low, I decided to borrow it and give it a go. Maybe it would be so abysmal it would be worth it just for the laughs. So, three years after everyone else, I'm able to pass comment.

I was surprised by the novel. It's readable, it tries to be literary, and it does sometimes articulate some truths about relationships. There are many things that annoy me, not least of which is the use of second person. Yes, it makes the reader feel more involved in the action, but it's also very clunky and intrusive. The more descriptive passages are sometimes too self-conscious, but sometimes they work. After describing the central character's vivacious best friend, Theo, Gemmell writes:

When alongside Theo you feel pale, like a leaf left in the water, bleached of colour and life.

Descriptions like these are where Gemmell is at her strongest; she understands how women relate to each other and how relationships (sometimes) function.

But then it all gets a bit silly. The central character embarks on an affair with a young man who is a virgin. When she tries to end that relationship, she is compelled to proposition a taxi driver (and his friends) not once, but twice. As a woman, this situation was ridiculous even as a fantasy but to translate it into action was simply not believable. I can't a believe that the character would really have placed herself in such danger and done it in such a casual manner. The situation seems like a male, not female, fantasy which undermines Gemmell's attempt to articulate the needs of women. The bookending of the novel with the mysterious disappearance of the author and her baby was similarly silly.

If Gemmell had put less effort into being 'shocking' and 'risque' and spent more time considering the relationships and issues in young womens' lives this novel might have been more enjoyable. And I might have felt less embarrassed confessing that I had read it.


Anonymous said...

I too was pretty embarrassed to read this book, but would love to hear your thoughts.

Do you think she killed herself at the end of the novel or ran away with Gabriel? Any other theories?

Anonymous said...

I related quite strongly to the personal discomfort that the woman experienced in relationship to her husband, and to her own sexuality, found myself nodding along with the slights of thought and emotion that were expressed through the book. I'm impressed that Nicki Gemmel was able to focus in on these thoughts that most people are so skilled at concealing from even themselves. I feel inspired to face my responses to my own relationships and my own sexuality more honestly.