Publisher: Serpents Tail
Publication Date: 7th November 2019
Mary Gaitskill is one of those authors that I knew I’d like before I’d even read any of her work. Do you ever get that feeling?
When I read some samples of her short stories online I knew instantly that her writing style was for me. I discovered she had a new book coming out in early November and I approached Serpents Tail with the cheeky ask.
This Is Pleasure arrived on Saturday when I was away and was a lovely surprise when I arrived home on the Sunday. I immediately snuggled up and blasted through this powerhouse of a book in about an hour. It is just short of 90 pages long and it packs a punch in a very subtle way.
We meet Quin, a forty something, charismatic and influential man in the world of publishing. We also meet his slightly older female friend Margot.
When they encounter each other through their work, Margot and Quin strike up an immediate connection. When they meet for dinner one night, Quin crosses a line and is told firmly by Margot that he is in the wrong. However, when Quin is the only person she can think of calling when she is upset one day, Margot allows the friendship to continue. The fact that she admonished him for his inappropriate behaviour towards her seems to bring about a respect from Quin that he has rarely had for women before.
Quin is a married man with a small child, however he also has a raft of female aquaintances whom he charms and flirts with almost obsessively. He seems to work his way through women with a startling regularity. He offers them fashion advice, he makes suggestions of how they should have their hair done, he is on hand to give relationship advice should they need it. They in turn seem to bask in his attention and seem to rely heavily on his approval.
Margot for her part, looks on with a slight puzzlement. She is bewildered and cannot really fathom why these women allow Quin to treat them as he does, almost as if they are playthings, toys for his entertainment.
When one of these women makes accusations against Quin and more women reveal themselves off the back of this, Quin’s life plunges into devastation. He is stunned that he is being treated this way and cannot really see what he has done wrong.
Margot is forced to re-examine her relationship with Quin and decide whether she is to stand with him or against him. She is so angry that he has put himself into this terrible situation and finds it increasingly difficult to rationalize his behaviour.
The story is told from the alternating view points of both Quin and Margot. I found this quite a fresh and interesting concept. There have been an abundance of books recently based around the #metoo movement (most notably for me What Red Was by Rosie Price, My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, The Girl At The Door by Veronica Nimmo and Putney by Sofia Zinovieff) and quite often these stories are told from the viewpoint of the accuser and very rarely the accusee. To hear Quin’s side of the story in the absence of the women’s voices that he has purported to have treated badly, was a little tricky for me but totally fascinating. To have the viewpoint of Margot, who is essentially Quin’s closest female friend added a very interesting, nuanced element which served to further muddy the water on who was in the right and who was in the wrong.
What makes the whole story that little bit more unsettling is the distinct lack of any real detail about Quin’s behaviour. What I took away from the story was that no sexual assualt of any description took place. I think there were many occasions in which Quin’s behaviour made women feel very uncomfortable, but I think from his point of view he had done nothing wrong other than flatter them, engage them, flirt with them.
I was almost a little reticent to write this review having read some viewpoints of others in response to Quin and his behaviour. Whilst I know without a shadow of a doubt that Quin’s behaviour was questionable at the very least, I found myself sitting on the fence with regards to whether the punishment in this case ‘fit the crime’. Just like Margot, I was left wondering just how many of these women enjoyed Quin’s toying with them, just how many of them were swept up and bowled along of their own free will? It’s difficult to form a solid opinion in the absence of ‘the other side of the story’.
I think this brief novella has the power to divide opinion and will be an excellent book club choice that will bring about many and varied discussions. I finished reading it and immediately wanted to talk to someone about it. I’ve seen many others feel the same way.
Nuanced tales are not the norm in the wake of the #metoo era and to spin a story which lies firmly in the realms of ambiguity, in which the complex characters don’t conform is extremely compelling.
I urge you all to pick this book up, read it, contemplate it and come and have a chat with me about it!
Based on my love of this book I have now gone on to reserve more of Mary Gaitskill books at my library and I have very high hopes.
Thank you as always to the publisher for my copy for review.
See you all soon.
Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx