Usually I wait a few days after I finish a book before I even think about writing about it, but in this case, I think it will be a good idea for me to record my initial responses, and maybe I’ll do a follow-up post later to log any further reflections I may have.
Did the title freak you out a little bit? Don’t worry, I still haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey, and I’m fairly certain that I never will. I read The Siren by Tiffany Reisz, thanks to a recommendation from Kim over at Reflections of a Book Addict. I’m not really reviewing this book, per se, but if you’re looking for a fabulous review of the book, please check out Kim’s post here. It’s a fabulous post, and I see no reason to attempt to re-create that wheel. It done been did.
This book is amazing, straight up. How amazing? Well, let me count the ways. 1. I honestly did not have a single snarky thought while I was reading the book. 2. When posting updates on my progress on Goodreads, I couldn’t think of any punchy quips that summed up my feelings – I was reduced to quoting Keanu: “Whoah.” 3. It’s erotica and cerebral literature, and I honestly didn’t think that combination could exist. 4. It’s BDSM erotica, but it doesn’t glorify the lifestyle; instead, it cuts a cross-section of that life and lets you form your own conclusions about it. 5. No topic is off-limits to this book–I went into it expecting fairly good erotica and I got discussions of the Trinity (the Trinity!!!) and art history and literary theory and the nature of love. 6. The ending may not be what you want, but it is what you need.
Let me start off by saying that I am vanilla through and through. I do not understand the BDSM lifestyle. I don’t understand why anyone would be turned on by hurting or being hurt. That is not to say that I think BDSM is sick or twisted–for those people who actually enjoy the combination of pain and pleasure, it’s what the doctor ordered–but it isn’t for me. So when I read The Siren, although I kept an open mind about all the…interesting…stuff that happens in it, I found it more disturbing than titillating. What was most disturbing to me was the idea that the millions of people who have read, are reading, or will read 50 Shades of Grey might be inspired to dabble in a lifestyle that is really not for the faint of heart and might end up harming themselves or others in the process. So my starting and ending position on this whole cha is: if BDSM gets you off, awesome, but if it doesn’t, there’s really no need for you to be buying this stuff:
I’m not saying you shouldn’t try new things to heat up your sex life, but I think that fooling around with BDSM is either silly or dangerous, unless you’re actually into it, and if you are, you won’t be buying these kinds of products–you’ll buy the real thing. Not that your sex life is any of my business (it isn’t, and please don’t tell me about it).
Back to the book. My favorite thing about The Siren is that it lets you form your own conclusions. It doesn’t glamorize BDSM. Reisz isn’t a charlatan proclaiming that a little bondage and dominance is going to save your sex life. However strange it might seem, the book actually takes a very neutral stance on both BDSM and vanilla sex (that latter term refers to the more straightforward sex practices of the majority. I hesitate to call it normal, because that would imply that BDSM is abnormal, and I don’t want to make that kind of value judgment.) Essentially, the book’s stance is that there are vanilla sex people and BDSM people, and both types are good in their own ways, but they shouldn’t mix.
I think the central theme of this book is love and all the ways that love can be/need to be expressed. There are a lot of relationships – Nora and Søren, Nora and Wes, Zach and Grace, Zach and Nora, Nora and Kingsley, Nora and Sherridan, etc. – and each involves some sort of love, whether expressed or unexpressed, friendly or passionate, and every relationship is complex. I enjoyed the complexity available in this book. Human emotions and relationships are messy, and that messiness is given free rein in this book.
It instinctively bothers me that love could be the motivation for one person causing another person pain and humiliation, but maybe that’s how some people need to love/feel love. It seemed to me, though, that while much ado was made of how much Søren loves Eleanor, considerably less ado was made about how much Eleanor/Nora loves Søren. She belonged to him, was utterly submissive to him, was his, but he was never hers. Doesn’t love require either an equal or dominant position in order to exist as love? It seems to me that a submissive can feel devotion, but when all control and decision-making power in a relationship is given over to one party, love is given over also.
This is all my opinion, of course, and it’s worth what you’re paying for it. Love is something you choose. I love my husband not because I am in awe of him but because, his faults notwithstanding, I choose to love him, to accept him as he is and as he will be. I am not sure that the choice to love is possible unless one has the independence from which to choose. To put it another way, I love my children, but I don’t think they love me because they are not yet mentally or emotionally independent and able to choose to love me. (As an aside, the 3-year-old always repeats after me: “I love you Allie.” “I love you too, Mom-mom.”) To put it yet another way, I believe that God loves me, but I am not so arrogant that I think myself capable of loving God; I may feel devotion and awe, but that’s not the same thing as love.
I’m a fan of Paulo Coelho, and his Eleven Minutes is one of the most thought-provoking and arresting books I’ve ever read. I kept thinking about a couple of scenes from Eleven Minutes while I was reading The Siren, and I think the two books dovetail wonderfully, even though they are very different.
He slapped her again and again, whether she deserved it or not, and she felt the pain and felt the humiliation–which was more intense and more potent than the pain–and she felt as if she were in another world, in which nothing existed, and it was an almost religious feeling: self-annihilation, subjection, and a complete loss of any sense of Ego, desire or self-will.
And later (the “you” below is the “she” above, by the way):
“You experienced pain yesterday and you discovered that it led to pleasure. You experienced it today and found peace. That’s what I’m telling you: don’t get used to it, because it’s very easy to become habituated; it’s a very powerful drug. It’s in our daily lives, in our hidden suffering, in the sacrifices we make, blaming love for the destruction of our dreams. Pain is frightening when it shows its real face, but it’s seductive when it comes disguised as sacrifice or self-denial. Or cowardice. However much we may reject it, we human beings always find a way of being with pain, of flirting with it and making it part of our lives….And so it goes on: sons give up their dreams to please their parents, parents give up their lives in order to please their children; pain and suffering are used to justify the one thing that should bring only joy: love.”
I haven’t proven anything, but this is my analysis, anyway, and I don’t feel a compelling need to convince anyone. I think that if we choose to have our immediate choices taken away from us, to enter a state where we are completely dominated (even by our choice) by another’s will, we lose the ability to feel and be and act with love for as long as we are without our will. So, in The Siren, Søren maintains his ability to love Eleanor, but Nora can only really love Søren after she has left him. When in his presence, Eleanor is in awe of Søren, and he holds a god-like status. That awe is mandatory – one does not choose to be in awe of the Grand Canyon or a full-grown lion… one simply is.
Anyway… The Siren is thought-provoking in all the best ways. You’d never expect to ruminate about the nature of God or love because you read some erotica novel, but that’s exactly what this book has in store for you. This book is art the way James Joyce described it in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (and if you don’t know what I mean, go read that book… now). I highly recommend it. (And when you’re done, read Eleven Minutes.)