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The Constant Mistress
Laura King, at 44, cosmopolitan, well-off from translating services which have taken her all over the world and introduced her to many interesting men.
She is diagnosed with fatal liver disease. Asks her specialist if she can still have sex ("Yes"). So when she announces at a dinner party that she is going to revisit all her old lovers and ask each to look after her for a month, the reader expects it's going to be a 'last-bonkathon' (but in fact she never has sex again).
Mikey her first love is now a (fairly poor) housing worker in a Northern town. She had a big crush on him until she found he had a baby and a tired wife.
Then Conrad, with whom she had a long affair when she was young and naive and unassertive. Conrad was brutally honest about their prospects. "There's a lot to be said for being a mistress, and I can teach you several valuable lessons. First, of course, varied, original and inexhaustible sex. Food and drink: the choice and consumption thereof. Dress sense. I'll give you presents from time to time. Not jewelry, it makes women greedy, but shoes perhaps. Shoes can be very erotic. We might even manage a weekend in Paris. But don't cherish any bourgeois illusions because that is not on our cards, least of all if you get pregnant. Take precautions, and be warned."
Nicholas, who is impotent with his wife since they were married, though they have maintained a charade. When she'd been with Nicholas she'd 'betrayed' him with a virile young American friend who'd shagged her passionately and shown her that she could enjoy sex without loving or even liking her partner. Laura has to leave because Nicholas' wife consumed with jealousy even though she knows Laura does not want sex, but because she knows he never looks at her as he does at Laura - "she knows I never loved her as I loved you, which is the way she loves me."
Edouardo, an older man who she'd met on business, and into who's bed she fell through loneliness. When she meets him again she notices how old he has become, but this also reminds her that she won't have the chance to grow old. Pampering and luxury of his Paris apartment makes her feel better, and her illness halts for a while. Ed proposes to her again, and though she knows it's too late for that, it proves he loved her.
Bruno a rich Greek arms dealer "My sweet Laura, ten years ago in Rome you gave me several days of pure pleasure. That, in a man's life, is rarer than worldly success and much rarer than money. You asked nothing. you simply surrendered to enjoyment. It was one of the greatest gifts I have ever had. I am glad of the opportunity to thank you." (Laura) "I, too, remember great pleasure." "Of course! I would have been very much at fault if you had not!"
Then she gets to Paul, 'the love of her life', but unfortunately married to her sister. She gets pregnant, but is bullied by her mother into having an abortion. She tells Paul that after the abortion and split with him, "I slept with an awful lot of men. Anyone I wanted, really. Once you stop looking for love or marriage, it leaves you amazingly free. I wanted nothing, only pleasure. That I did demand. Didn't matter whether it was sex or food or money. Instead of you I settled for luxury, posh restaurants, five star hotels - my standards got very high. Men are simple. They need sexual flattery, especially when they get to around 60. Their powers are waning and they like to talk about old triumphs and hear themselves praised. They want to be flirted with and made to feel potent, powerful, irresistible. Sometimes they'd rather have that than sex. If you can do that convincingly, they'll give you anything."
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