But at the heart of both – sex.
More specifically, sex within the context of a relationship, but also outside of that context.
In The Dangerous Bride, we meet Lee Kofman in a Melbourne fetish club on the night before her wedding, kissing a woman in a nurse’s uniform.
In Summer Skin, we meet Brisbane uni student Jess Gordon, stealing a footy jersey from the all-male Knights College to set up a prank of sexual revenge.
Two women, on missions of sexual daring.
In her memoir of a complex marriage, Lee is on a journey of discovery to find out whether it’s possible, within the bounds of a loving but sexually unfulfilling marriage, to engage ethically in non-monogamy.
Jess is also on a journey of self-understanding. She’s fallen for the wrong guy. In the cloistered milieu of university colleges, a Unity girl falling for a ‘Knight’ is akin to Juliet hooking up with Romeo. The two houses simply aren’t supposed to come together. So, does Jess betray her friends and feminist principals by being with Mitch, or does she listen to what her body and mind want her to do?
I hadn’t meant to read these books back to back. In fact, I thought it would be a good change-up to go from one to the other. But the reading gods had other plans. As I read, I was struck by similarities of theme, namely, that it’s extremely difficult to separate sex from emotion. That’s hardly new, you say. Okay, but wait. What makes these books fresh and exciting is the feminist viewpoint with which they are imbued.
In times past, it’s been thought that women and men experienced sex in different ways. For women, it was emotional. For men, it was physical. But that thinking is being turned on its head. In both Summer Skin and The Dangerous Bride, women experience lust and desire in ways thought traditionally the province of men. And the men in these books are just as emotionally confused by sex as the women.
Of course, there are differences.
The Dangerous Bride is a singular examination of non-monogamy and its various forms. Apart from drawing on personal experiences and interviews, Kofman also refers extensively to the writings and works of poets and writers who have experienced non-monogamy. In this way, it is both a personal and academic work.
In contrast, Summer Skin is, at its heart, a fictional romance for a new adult audience which, while focusing on issues of sex and intimacy, also takes a broader look at what it is to be a 19 year old uni student. Sex is just one part of a life crammed with the business of studying, maintaining friendships, playing sport, doing part-time work and cultivating a social media profile.
Both Kofman and Eagar are gorgeous writers. Kofman’s powers of observation are quite stunning and her love of poetry is evident in her prose writing.
Here, she’s having a first date with the man who will become her lover…
The only place we found was a bar that was rough at the edges with a flock of heavy-buttocked motorcycles parked at the gates. In its garden, illuminated with bleeding-out daylight and fairy lights, among tables weighed with rows of empty beer glasses patterned with dried, frothy spiderwebs, amid Led Zepplin’s hysterical guitars and the bitter smoke of hand-rolled tobacco, over the cooling nachos neither of us touched, I leaned towards him but maybe also into him..’
(*Sigh*) Love the metaphors in that passage, and the rhythm.. gorgeous.
Eagar, on the other hand, has this brilliant ability to authentically capture the teenage voice and experience. Having lived on campus in the 90s, I have to say that the writing feels real to me.
‘If high school was all about whether or not you’d give it up, uni seemed to be about nothing but giving it up. Suddenly, inexplicably, the rules changed, and-bam-you were Adult-with-a-capital-A. There was no means to the end, there was just the end, just sex, and you pretended to keep up. Sometimes Jess had felt it, the flaring of her own appetite, but she’d rarely let herself go. Too busy performing.’
At times I wanted to bash Jess and Mitch’s heads together and tell them to Get It Together. But this is probably a good sign. Because this, of course, is what it’s like to be 19. Maddeningly frustrating and, at times, totally irrational.
So – after 300 odd pages of self discovery – where do our sexual adventurers, Jess and Lee, end up? Does Jess compromise her friendships? Does Lee compromise her marriage?
I’m not going to tell you, except to say, they end up with a whole lot more knowledge and understanding than that with which they started.
And so do we.
For more information on Summer Skin, visit Allen & Unwin.
For more information on The Dangerous Bride, visit Melbourne University Press