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The Mistress Contract

A Memoir

She and He

(London Times)

This book, which is being touted as the next (real-life) Fifty Shades and chronicles the unorthodox sexual relationship of an anonymous West Coast couple, made me moan, but not in a good way. Instead there were howls of indignation (“He: You were a better screw when you were depressed than any other time because you were so absolutely open, yielding, accepting”), followed by snorts of blushing derision (“She: Orgasm from concertos and opera at sunset occurred for me in Europe”).

The Mistress Contract is a memoir whose aim is to shock, tease and turn the reader on to the battle between the sexes. So sensational is the conceit supposed to be that the Emmy-winning writer Abi Morgan is adapting it into a play for the Royal Court.

The book begins in 1981 when a career feminist and divorcee writes a singular document to her wealthy, married lover. It is entitled The Mistress Contract. In return for a home and expenses, she will agree to become his 'sexual property'. They will record their conversations and The Mistress Contract is the excessively edited result.

Theirs is a carefully constructed sex life. In any other memoir, the subjects' intimate proclivities would be beside the point, but in this non-prurient instance it goes to the heart of the matter. This nameless couple (we know only that they met at grad school, and that he is now 93 and she 88) are both highly educated. But it is she who devises the contract and who admits to being turned on by dominating porn and ritualistic rape. The paperwork says she will submit to his demands, but won't tolerate 'sucking' or being 'entered from the rear'. When he suggests leaving her, she lets him do both. Who do you think has the ultimate control?

The issues raised are purposely provocative: where does power lie in a sexual relationship? Is sex better outside a marriage? Does a mastectomy make a difference? And yet it is difficult to take this book seriously. The insistently academic campus conversations smack of fiction, the references to abstract sexual stimulation shriek of a spoof. But then there are passages of such artificial dullness that perhaps it is true. If so, the authors are insufferable. They seem far too busy grinding away at their intellectual posturing to get down to much funny business, let alone any useful self-awareness on the page. The authors, if they are real - along with any reader who makes it to the end - are to be commended for their endurance.

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