The New York Times and national best-seller hailed as "brilliantly literate, utterly unabashed . . . consistently provocative" (The Philadelphia Inquirer)--the controversial sleeper hit of the year--a candid, powerful, and deeply intelligent depiction of unfettered sexuality
Since it was first published in France, The Sexual Life of Catherine M. has become a bestseller all around the world and has been hailed as one of the most important books on sexuality to be published in decades.
Since her youth, Catherine Millet, the eminent editor of Art Press, has led an extraordinarily active and free sexual life--from al fresco encounters in Italy to a gang bang on the edge of the Bois du Boulogne to a high-class orgy at a chichi Parisian restaurant. She has taken pleasure in the indistinct darkness of a peep show booth and under the probing light of a movie camera at an orgy. And in The Sexual Life of Catherine M. she recounts it all, from tender interludes with a lover to situations where her partners were so numerous and simultaneous they became indistinguishable parts of a collective organism.
A graphic account of a life of physical gratification and a relentlessly honest look at the consequences, both liberating and otherwise, of sex stripped of sentiment, The Sexual Life of Catherine M. is "truly a masterpiece of sexual exploration [that] will be a classic" (The Hartford Courant).
Millet, art critic and editor of Art Press, has become a literary sensation in France with the publication of this graphic memoir of some 30 years of her sexual adventures. Millet's "gift for observation" and her "solid superego" are as useful in her career as an art critic as they are in her erotic explorations: her ability to concentrate and observe puts her inside "other people's skins." Comparisons have been made to The Story Of O, but Millet is more in the tradition of Jean Genet and Violette Leduc, whose descriptions of their sexual encounters were not meant to titillate so much as to explore the meaning of the erotic. Millet's "quest for the sexual grail" takes her to group orgies, gang bangs in French parks and other serial sex escapades. Before long, the sex begins to seem utterly routine, in spite of the elaborate staging. Millet and her readers are then free to consider more closely some questions she raises: how oral sex compares to vaginal intercourse; why sex in disgusting circumstances is not about "self-abasement," but raising oneself "above all prejudice"; or why solitary sex is more pleasurable for her than sex with a partner. Toward the end of this curiously graceful memoir, Millet comes close to explaining her need for all this sex: only by sloughing off the "mechanical body" she'd been born with could she experience actual sexual pleasure. While women readers will find much of interest, male readers may have to overcome a certain emperor's new clothes-type discomfort, as they realize that Millet may know more about the male body than they do.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 01, 2003
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Excerpt from The Sexual Life of Catherine M. by Catherine Millet
As a child I thought about numbers a great deal. The memories we have of solitary thoughts and actions from the first few years of life are very clear-cut: they provide the first opportunities for self-awareness, whereas events shared with other people can never be isolated from the feelings (of admiration, fear, love or loathing) that those others inspire in us, feelings that, as children, we are far less able to identify or even understand. I, therefore, have particularly vivid memories of the thoughts that steered me into scrupulous counting exercises every evening before I went to sleep. Shortly after my brother was born (when I was three and a half), my family moved into a new apartment. For the first few years we lived there, my bed was in the largest room, facing the door. I would lie staring at the light that came across the corridor from the kitchen where my mother and grandmother were still busying themselves, and I could never get to sleep until I had visualized these numerical problems one after the other. One of the problems related to the question of having several husbands. Not the possibility of the situation, which seems to have been accepted, but the circumstances themselves. Could a woman have several husbands at the same time, or only one after the other? In the latter case, how long did she have to stay married to each one before she could move on? What would be an "acceptable" number of husbands: a few, say five or six, or many more than that--countless husbands? How would I go about it when I grew up?
As the years went by, I substituted counting children for husbands. I imagine that, in finding myself under the seductive spell of some identified man (in turn, a film star, a cousin, etc.) and focusing my wandering thoughts on his features, I perhaps felt less uncertainty about the future. I could envisage in more concrete terms my life as a young married woman, and therefore the presence of children. More or less the same questions were raised again: was six the most "acceptable" number, or could you have more? What sort of age gap should there be between them? And then there was the ratio of girls to boys.
I cannot think back to these ideas without connecting them to other obsessions that preoccupied me at the same time. I had established a relationship with God that meant I had to think every evening about what he was going to eat, so the enumeration of the various dishes and glasses of water I offered him mentally--fussing over the size of the helpings, the rate at which they were served, etc.--alternated with the interrogations into the extent to which my future life would be filled with husbands and children. I was very religious, and it could well be that my confused perception of the identities of God and his son favored my inclination to counting. God was the thundering voice that brought men back into line without revealing him to them. But I had been taught that he was simultaneously the naked pink baby made of plaster that I put into the Christmas manger every year, the suffering man nailed to the crucifix before which we prayed--even though both of these were actually his son--as well as a sort of ghost called the Holy Spirit. Of course, I knew perfectly well that Joseph was Mary's husband, and that Jesus, even though he was both God and the son of God, called him "Father." The Virgin was in fact the mother of the Christ child, but there were times when she was referred to as his daughter.
When I was old enough to go to Sunday school, I asked to speak to the priest one day. The problem I laid before him was this: I wanted to become a nun, to be a "bride of Christ," and to become a missionary in an Africa seething with destitute peoples, but I also wanted to have husbands and children. The priest was a laconic man, and he cut short the conversation, believing that my concerns were premature.
Until the idea of this book came to me, I had never really thought about my sexuality very much. I did, however, realize that I had had multiple partners early on, which is unusual, especially for girls, or it certainly was among the milieu in which I was brought up. I lost my virginity when I was eighteen--which is not especially early--but I also had group sex a few weeks after my deflowering. On that occasion I was not the initiator, but I was the one who precipitated it--something I still cannot explain to myself. I have always thought that I just happened to meet men who liked to make love in groups or liked to watch their partners making love with other men, and the only reaction I had (being naturally open to new experiences and seeing no moral obstacle) was to adapt willingly to their ways. But I have never drawn any theory from this, and therefore have never been militant about it.