Reviewed by Evie Arnaude
First published in 1954 and set in Paris, O is a submissive, ready to accept desire in all its forms from any man who’s also a member of her lover René’s secret society. Told in writing so sparse it can only be poetic, Story of O’s author spares O, and thus her reader, no experience: She is whipped, she is chained, she is pierced, she is branded. And yes, she has lots of sex of every kind imaginable.
O is a photographer, a professional, she wears a suit and heels and gloves. The feminist view has attempted to wrangle this story for so long now. O is a willing sexual slave. And her story goes to the extreme. With that, it’s not for everyone. By all means keep in mind the culture of the early-to-mid-’50s, what it meant to write or read this book through the years, and how its timelessness has made it endure throughout the decades.
Nearly 70 years have passed and this is still one of the most preeminent in its league. Looking at it through modern eyes, you may ask the question: Is O objectified? And the answer is: Yes. She is. This is her story and this is, in its fictional world, the life she’s willfully chosen. But once you understand that the book itself was written under a nom de plume by Anne Desclos as a series of love letters to her lover, and that she didn’t publish under her own name because of the looming threat of “obscenity” (which was the reason given for revoking its 1955 Prix des Deux Magot literature prize), then you begin to understand O’s world as something deeply symbolic, an ode, more than a literal representation (pun intended here).
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