Story Of O by Pauline Reage

Can transcendence be found in degredation? Can bliss come through agony? How you answer these questions will largely determine your reaction to Story of O, a novel that remains as shocking and controversial today as on its publication in 1965.

The plot of Story of O revolves around the French photographer O and her increasing descent into willing slavery. Her lover Rene takes her to a place called Roissy to be fully trained in physical and psychological submissiveness. Later he passes her on to Sir Stephen, a more severe master, leading O to delight more in increased submission than in love.

Anyone expecting this book to be a prurient erotic romp will find something else entirely. Reage decribes actual sex very quickly and matter-of-fact, nor does she linger over the physical punishments. Instead, the joys and descriptions are reserved for O's increasing pleasure at being used and abused.

This abuse, physical and mental, is the virtue of the novel -- and its problem. Story of O is consistent in its view that absolute obedience and increasing pain are, for this character, bliss. (Towards the end of the book, O even looks down on someone who falls in love, seeing this as a sign of weakness relying on the affections of another.) However, the presentation is enough to send feminists into a seizure -- women exist solely for the whims of men -- and the training at Roissy is akin to brainwashing. And while O is frequently told she can leave if she wants, later a man says if a woman doesn't want to go to Roissy, they'll force her. Story of O also endorses the female submissive world of sexuality: no equal partnerships, dominant women, or submissive men in this world. And the physical discipline is extreme enough to put anyone not into hardcore BDSM off.

Story of O is an uncompromising view of one person's merging of sexuality and submission. If you're looking for a kinky time, this is not for you. (You'll do better with Anne Rice's The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty trilogy (written under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure), or the Black Lace novel White Rose Ensnared by Juliet Hastings (a personal favorite), or even the three filmed versions of Story of O.) If extreme pain is not your thing, this book will certainly put you off. But if you can handle that, Story of O is definitely a memorable read.

Overall Grade: B-

Reviewed by James Lynch

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