Sex sells, so they say. And if sex sells, as I always say, who’s buying? Well, if you’re in the market for sex books, then I’d recommend The Tryst (Dodo Ink, 2017) to most literary fans looking for something a little kinky. In turns hilarious, deliciously awkward, sometimes upsetting but relentlessly prurient, Monique Roffey’s novel is ludicrously enjoyable and far more exciting and interesting a piece of literature than I had anticipated.
Having been underwhelmed by Adam Thirlwell’s ménage a trois novel, Politics, waaaaay back in 2013 (or 2014?), I wasn’t certain if I’d enjoy a second contemporary, literary, exploration of inviting an extra partner into a relationship. I also didn’t know much about The Tryst in advance, other than (according to one of its publishers) that it should be sexy enough to give me an erection. So, embarked as I am on a relentless pursuit of sexual liberation through the pages of literature, while delving into my deep box of unread books (still kinda homeless, so no shelves for Scottie atm) I pulled this out.
[[[FULL DISCLOSURE: I was given a copy of this to review by the publishers, however it happened in like April or May or June or something and I was so fucking suicidal and depressed that even though the idea of a sex book at that time terrified me, I still accepted the gift as occasional acts of kindness and generosity were all I fucking lived for back then. I can’t remember what else happened that day, but I probably cried, I probably drank until I passed out, and I probably had multiple panic attacks. Thanks to the Dodo Ink team for the book, though!]]]
The Tryst, like Politics, is a gently experimental novel that feels very contemporary (and very middle class), but unlike Politics it isn’t a simple, “believable” narrative, for The Tryst isn’t your run-of-the-mill novel about a sexually bored 40-something heterosexual couple inviting a young, flirty, woman into their home, it’s a magical realist kinda thriller about a sexually bored 40-something heterosexual couple inviting a young, flirty woman into their home who turns out TO BE LIKE A SEX-OBSESSED EVIL DEMON SEX IMP DESCENDED FROM LILITH, ADAM THE FIRST MAN’S FIRST WIFE.
What follows is a raucous orgy of filth, as we switch from the perspective of Jane (the woman of the couple, near-addicted to repressed masturbatory fantasies of faceless fucking), to the mind of horny Bill (whose cock has never been kissed since his disastrous first marriage), to the obscenity-laden horn-deluge of magic that is Lilah’s (the imp’s) delicious and intensely sexualised internal monologue.
Roffey’s writing is rich in detail and pleasingly unrepressed, her sex acts and her slips in between the real world and the realm of fantastical fantasy are equally matter of fact. As sexual fantasies go, imagining the imposition into a dull marriage of an insatiable, lusty elf who destroys crap ornaments, who masturbates with vegetables, who squirts huge volumes of liquid whenever she comes, who drops beetroot from her vagina into the waiting mouth of an undersexed man, it is a fantastical fantasy, but one that is fully realised within these hot hot pages.
This is sex as metaphor, repression as horror, problematic dead sexuality as evil, the idea of sinfulness and shame being embodied in an Other, a different entity existing as a receptacle for lust. Lilah is not human, but her needs and her hungers are deeply of us. She speaks as if all desire, all lust, is from the same origin as she is, and she embodies and understands both the acknowledged and the repressed desires of Bill and Jane. For her, sex is a distraction, but a deeply important one. Sex, like violence, is something to pass the eternal lengths of time that exist for an immortal being. Lilah speaks about other imps, other children of Lilith, who have passed over, who have permanently moved into the human world in the pursuit of Fuck, their own immortality and their lack of humanness subsumed into self-destruction due to an excess of desire, which is the weakness within our human flesh the imps both exploit and enjoy.
In Roffey’s novel, humans and other, magical, creatures live in the same world, side by side and crossing each others’ paths with more regularity than we ever realise. There are recurring references to the fact that fellatio was banned across Europe for many centuries [typing this on train, note to self: look this up, was it true?], there are mythologies about imps and old gods and old Christianity that appeals absolutely to my weird interests. Like that DH Lawrence book about the Etruscans, The Tryst brings up that eternal post-Enlightenment idea that in the past we (i.e. all humans) were happier, and freer, back when sex and sexuality were things we consumed without shame.
This is the idea, I suppose, that I have been trying to understand myself. Shame is a destructive impulse. In something I read recently (probably Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence), a character states that shame is important, because it is shame that keeps people behaving correctly (maybe it was A Spy In The House of Love). I disagree with this: it is shame that keeps us trapped within our own bodies and keeps us unhappy. For a very long time, I was destructively ashamed of my own sexuality, and it was never something I felt comfortable engaging with except in the filthy things I wrote or when I was too intoxicated to feel shame. Neither of these avenues of self-sexual-engagement created a healthy personal relationship with sex: feeling ashamed of desire leads to thinking of desire as something that should be thought of as shameful – to do something is to normalise doing it, y’know? Once you’ve felt ashamed about feeling desire enough times, you’re used to feeling shame for feeling desire and then sex becomes a source of unhappiness, rather than a source of pleasure, joy and – bluntly, what it is for most people – fun. We do not remove our desire by repressing it, and by living in self-denial we create problems that are ever harder to fix.
Because most people are sexual beings, to differing extents. Asexuality, obviously, exists, and its surprisingly sensitive exploration in Bojack Horseman succeeds in expanding the awareness of this to a wider pool. However, denying one doesn’t feel desire is different to denying one does. In The Tryst, Jane and Bill’s mutual denial of desire causes them to seek excitement elsewhere, and – unfortunately – that excitement is found in a being who is not safe, who is not benevolent.
Roffey’s novel explores sex and sexuality with wit and openness. Her sex scenes are sexy, the novel made me laugh over and over and over again, and although the publisher’s promise that The Tryst would definitely leave me sprung turned out to be false, I really, really, enjoyed it. Actually, I read almost every single page on public transport, so the fact that it didn’t leave me with a pompous erection is for the best.
No idea what I meant by “pompous erection”, but I’m gonna leave it in.
A treat, recommended. BUY IT DIRECT FROM THE PUBLISHER HERE.
Forgot to do a poem for the last post, but here’s one for today:
#SEXTIPS FOR LITERARY BOYS
Clean your sheets
And hide the David Foster Wallace.
Leave Anaïs Nin on the bedside
And strew condoms on the duvet
Because real women
Unlike the women in books
On preventing the spread of chlamydia.
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