The 52 Seductions manages to take a clever, but simple idea, and turn it into a compelling, moving – and very funny – story. Betty Herbert came up with the premise of the book, when her marriage, though happy in the main, was stagnating sexually. She decided to convince her husband that all they needed was to carry out a different ‘seduction’ every week for a year, taking it in turns to come up with the erotic inspiration.
If this sounds a bit Ann Summers to you, well in a way it is. But Betty’s dry, slightly cynical approach to the ‘spice up your marriage’ industry means that she is able to laugh at herself, and her attempts to, er, spice up her marriage. So after a night of passion on a bed strewn with rose petals, she does not fail to mention that her cleaner leaves a strategically placed petal on her bedroom windowsill the next day. And when, plagued by pain and inexplicable vaginal bleeding, her favourite position ‘the reverse cowgirl’ leads to a Carrie-type scene of carnage, the reader is encouraged to laugh, as well as sympathise.
The 52 Seductions works because it crosses genres, moods and styles. It could be read at face value, as a set of sex tips for struggling couples. It is also an honest account of a relationship that began when the two lovers were very young, and has continued despite – or because of – the obstacles. And, it is a set of reflections about being a woman, ageing, marriage, work, feminism and sex. And, if you like your porn realistic and scattered with humour (and rose petals) it is actually quite horny in places.
The ‘feminism’ that informs the book was the only part I didn’t love. I am happy to read books by and about feminist women, but I felt at times that Betty was assuming all women, like her, are feminist. And occasionally she would make generalisations about ‘women’ and ‘men’ in relation to sexual appetites, and emotions, that did not ring true with me. There was a bit in the book that I found very familiar, where the couple were having a meal in a pub on holiday, and all their sadness and communication difficulties came to the fore. But I related far more to how she described her husband in that situation. In my relationship my partner was the ‘emotional’ ‘talkative’ one and I was prone to silences and sulks.
Overall The 52 Seductions is brilliant, brave, ingenious and at times hilarious. I had trouble putting it down, and am bound to read it again. My favourite bits are the seductions themselves. This is an extract from ‘Call Centres’ where the intrepid duo try phone sex – using a professional phone sex line.
‘ ‘Hello? Oh, hello, Erica. . . My name’s Herbert . . . I’m thirty-eight . . . You’re thirty? What colour hair do you have?’
What? I think, Why is that relevant? She’ll be blonde, I guarantee it.
‘Erica,’ he says, ‘I’ve got a naughty confession to make.’ I glance up at him, hoping he will catch my eye and smirk, but it appears that he’s saying this with no irony whatsoever. ‘My wife is with me. She’s sucking my cock.’
Oh yuck, I think. I suppose I couldn’t expect him not to tell her, but now I am wondering what on earth Erica thinks of me. It brings to mind the wife of the vile man in There’s Something About Mary, who merrily fellates her husband while he watches the football.’
If you want to know how that scene climaxes, you will have to read the book. I promise it won’t let you down.
You can buy The 52 Seductions at Amazon
Check out Betty’s Blog for more seductive words!