Review: Secret Lives of Emma - Beginnings

I have so many mixed feelings about this book I hardly know where to start on this review. Beginnings is the first in a trilogy that follows the erotic life of Emma. The story opens with a thirtyish Emma who is studying and at home a lot while her relatively new husband - (how’s that? – he’s so forgettable I had to go look up his name!) – David, climbs the corporate ladder.

Primarily told from Emma’s point of view, it becomes clear fairly early what an unreliable narrator we have to take us on this journey. Emma is a sensual being, refreshingly untouched by piety or prudishness. As a girl who’s been around the block a few times, she has always indulged her erotic urges without censorship. (More power to her, I say). When she meets David she falls for his physical and intellectual power, but refuses to sacrifice her erotic freedom on the holy altar of marriage.

I’m inclined to say ‘more power to her’ again, and I would, except what unfolds when Emma takes a sexy shine to the eighteen year old ‘boy’ next door looks less like a woman asserting her erotic power than selfish exploitation and manipulation. As Emma lures Jason, her object of erotic fantasy, into her realm, she becomes less and less likeable as a character. She’s a tease, by turns generously exploring Jason’s youthful sexuality, then using his naivety to control his desire, rarely feeling an ounce of concern for his well being at any time.

The erotic interaction between Jason and Emma unfolds slowly, a little more sexual rope is released each time they meet. I soon realised we were working towards a coupling as the climax (no pun intended) of this story. I was impressed by how good the erotic writing was (beats 50SOG hands down. In fact, is nothing at all like it in anyway - except it's got sex in it). Walker/Purcell doesn’t rush these scenes, which creates an urgent tension in the reading not unlike the sexual act itself. The reader can savour fully moments of kissing, of touch, of revelation, and the anticipation of what might come next really ramps up the sexual tension.

Walker/Purcell has also done a commendable job in capturing the essence of a fully erotic woman, in touch and comfortable with the breadth and depth of her sexuality. Emma’s direct openness to sensuality, her active curiosity in exploring pleasure, are characteristics we don’t often see in female characters (in reality or fiction). It’s more common for women to have learned to quell or suppress this wilder erotic self, so I quite admired the author's insight in expressing this aspect of femininity (given she's a bloke - the author, not Emma). That said, I can understand why some women couldn’t relate to Emma. She lacked softness, empathy, romance. Make no mistake, even though the word love is mentioned, there is no romance in this book.

Emma essentially plays with Jason. She toys with his sexuality, she ignores any feelings he has other than desire, she uses him to alleviate what looks like boredom. The similarities between this story and my own novel, The Yearning, were not lost on me. Each are stories of youth discovering high powered sex too early and in that they have much in common. Emma and Solomon could be siblings. As characters they are almost mirror images of each other, although without context to Emma’s past readers may find it difficult empathise with her behaviour, which isn’t ideal. Readers need a protagonist they can root for (again, no pun intended) and I’m not convinced Emma is that kind of protagonist.

Nonetheless, I read this quickly, compelled to discover if Emma ‘gets her man’ in the end, and she does. In spades. Of the two main characters it’s Jason who changes, making a convincing (and rather tantalising) transition from boy to man. In fact Emma’s character arc is a little unclear, but that might be because this is only book 1 in a set of 3 and perhaps by the end of book 3 what Emma wants and what she learns will become more apparent.

All up I did enjoy this as a light, sexy read. There was an occasional digression into an alternate point of view where someone other than Emma commentates on the action and evolution of the characters – which I found a bit distracting, but I still found it fun. And sexy. Will I read more? Sadly, I don’t care enough about Emma to want to. Her preoccupation with her own needs at the expense of others, her lack of insight into others feelings didn’t inspire interest in me.

But if you’re looking for some quality, tantalising and very sexy fantasy fiction, you know where to go.

Title: Secret Lives of Emma - Beginnings
Author: Natasha Walker (aka John Purcell)
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Erotic fiction
Length: 255 pages
Rating: 3.5/5 stars

I will be joining John Purcell, Krissy Kneen and Kate Holden at The Wheeler Centre Sex in Words panel Wednesday 2nd April. Tickets from The Wheeler Centre - a free event.

Read as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 #AWW2014 (but does it qualify, since Natasha is a man?? Perhaps not!)


Fantastic review. I tend to have a little trouble with female characters that don't have a whole lot of empathy, but at the same time the hero and heroine's dynamic sounds really intriguing. I look forward to giving it a go:)

KateBelle.X's picture

Thanks Georgina. I found myself really struggling to settle on how I felt about it. In a way, it was an insight into how people may have felt reading my book - that same squirmy discomfort and compulsion to keep reading. It's given me greater understanding of how people reacted to Solomon. Powerful characters evoke powerful responses.

I read this with interest, having interviewed John recently, more in his guise as bookseller than author, though we touched on both. Great review Kate!

KateBelle.X's picture

Thanks Alli. I find the subtle difference between the way men and women write sex fascinating. John does a  great job, but the lack of romanticism interests me. It seems very common in men's approach to writing sex. 

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