Book Review: I Take You by Nikki Gemmell

I Take You by Nikki Gemmell

This is Gemmell’s third and self declared last of her ventures into erotic writing. It is part of a loose trilogy exploring female sexuality and relationships, preceded by The Bride Stripped Bare and With My Body.

I am a big fan of Nikki Gemmell’s writing and had my very own fan girl moment last year when I went to see her in conversation with Rafael Epstein (ABC 774 radio) as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival. Her substantial talents have led to some gorgeous moments in these three erotic books, however I wasn’t surprised to hear the tired tone in her voice when she told Rafael she wouldn’t be writing anymore sexy books. She was clear – ‘I am done’.

I wasn’t surprised because while reading With My Body I had a vague sense her heart wasn’t wholly in it, that it was a book she needed rather than wanted to write. At that stage I hadn’t read I Take You, and was deeply glad that feeling didn’t carry over into the last of the trilogy. In fact, I Take You differed so thoroughly from the other two books I found completely fresh enjoyment in reading it.

I Take You is a love story dripping with eroticism and a romance with a happy ever after ending that is at once believable and satisfying. Gemmell’s grasp of poetic language is delicious and it’s what makes her work a ‘weak at the knees’ read for me. There were times when the poetic style wasn’t always easy to follow, with unfinished sentences and single words scattered to create emotional intensity, but I didn’t find them so distracting as to affect my enjoyment of the book.

Unlike the other two books, which were written in second person, the deep third person point of view drew me into Connie’s life and marriage. I felt a real connection and empathy with Connie, even though I found her plush, indulged, extravagant lifestyle at the beginning shallow and selfish and I was relieved to see her garner the courage she needed to break away from it.

Apparently Gemmell drew much of this material from her time living in London where the aristocracy use money and privilege to cut themselves off from the lived reality of the masses. Sounds pretty much like wealthy people everywhere to me, however to get a peek into the pretentious reality this level of wealth buys was sobering.

Gemmell took her inspiration for Connie’s story from two literary giants of eroticism: Story of O and Lady Chatterly’s Lover – and the result is a captivating combination of brutal and compelling sado-masochism contrasted with a deep earthy honest sexual relationship. The first third of the book shows Connie as a willing puppet to her crippled and highly competitive husband, Cliff. A skiing accident has curbed his sexual capacity so he compensates by controlling Connie’s sexuality and using it for his own gratification (and supposedly hers, although that is less convincing).

‘Connie is righted, almost buckles, with anticipation, readiness, want. Nothing must break the spell, nothing, she must not rationalise too much. She must not let fear clench her want, dissolve it. Surrender – completely – or it will not work. For me...for you...for any of us.’

The horrific escalation of Cliff’s control is what wakes Connie up. That and sighting the muscular, hard working form of the gardener who takes care of the locked park Connie and her wealthy neighbours have access to. As summer melts away the London cold, Connie becomes aware of a new desire for freedom birthing within her.

The early scenes between Connie and her reluctant love interest, Mel, are laden with erotic content, yet they are simple exchanges involving nothing more than a baby bird fallen from a nest. The sex between them evolves quickly, perhaps too quickly for some, but for Connie it’s an act of defiance, an attempt to take back what she’s given over to her husband. Consummation is a potent moment because Mel unlocks Connie and, like a critter released from a cage, Connie begins to tentatively explore new freedoms, both externally and internally.

This idea of a woman’s sexuality being unlocked by a lover is a recurring theme in Gemmell’s writing and I was delighted with the powerful way she represented and explored this concept in I Take You. Of all the three books, I thought this was the best. And her nod to the incomparable Virginia Woolf, whom she quotes at the beginning of each chapter, only served to deepen my experience of it. The literary style of this book won’t suit everyone, but for word lovers like myself, it’s well worth your time.

Title: I Take You

Author: Nikki Gemmell

Publisher: Harper Collins – Fourth Estate

Genre: Literary erotica

Length: 314 pages

Rating: 4 stars

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