Article published on December 30, 2015.
Krissy Kneen sent in her Ten Great Works of Classic Sex, all in the name of research.
This list is filled with modern classics of sex writing. There are so many older classics, from the Chinese classic The Golden Lotus by Jin Ping Mei written in 1596 to Fanny Hill written by John Cleland in 1748, to 120 Days of Sodom written by the Marquis de Sade in 1789 and one of the first homosexual novels written in English, The Sins of the Cities of the Plain published in 1881 by a group of writers calling themselves Jack Saul. The history of sex writing is filled with exciting books, mostly banned on publication, often published anonymously and constantly pushing the boundaries of acceptability. I love visiting the older classics for their history and their transgressions but the language of sex pre 1920s is often a blowsy place filled with archaic words for genitals and flowery metaphors hiding the act of sex itself. For sexy books that remain sensual even in a modern context I am more often than not drawn to the modern classics. Here I present you with ten of the best. There are many, many more.
1. A Sport and A Pastime by James Salter.
This book is a very modern classic as it was written in 1967 but Salter, who sadly just died this year, is one of the greats. He cannot write a bad sentence. In this erotic classic, a brash American visiting Paris takes up with a Parisian girl and plunges into a sensual love affair. The surprising thing about this book is that it is all told from the first person perspective of an un-named narrator. His detailed descriptions of his friends erotic trysts (which will have you very hot under the collar) might be true accounts of their relationship but they say so much more about the narrator’s own feelings of dislocation and loneliness.
2. Little Birds by Anais Nin
The short pornographic fiction of Anais Nin is addictive. There is nothing quite like these short stories that Nin wrote in the 1940s. The book was only published after her death, but this book and her other pornographic collection The Delta of Venus contain some of the most transgressive and arousing sex writing in print.
3. The Story of O by Pauline Reage (Anne Desclos)
Published in 1954 under the pseudonym of Pauline Reage, Desclos wrote this book because of her lover Jean Paulhan’s obsession with the Marquis de Sade. He suggested that a woman could not write something as sexy or transgressive as Sade’s work and Desclos immediately set out to prove him wrong. What resulted is this fabulous imagining of a sadomasochistic relationship where the main character, O studies to become a submissive. What is truly amazing is how Desclos manages to give O more power the more submissive she becomes. This is certainly a challenging but very very sexy read.
4. Irene by Louis Aragon
The alternative title of this book is Irene’s C**t. Written under a pseudonym in 1928 this book tracks the adulthood and old age of a man who eventually contracts syphilis. The last section details the man’s last days, confined to a bed unable to move or to speak. Sounding sexy yet? No? Well somehow Aragon manages to bring a sensual poetry to this book and the final chapters are infused with a sense of eros that will stay with you for weeks.
5. Young Adam by Alexander Trocchi
There are other Trocchi novels that are more clearly focussed on the sex. Helen and Desire and White Thighs are pure erotica, but Young Adam (1954) is his most sensual work. The story revolves around Joe, a young man who works on a riverboat in Glasgow owned by a husband and wife. Joe begins a secret affair with the wife. The group fish the corpse of a young woman out of the river and the connection between Joe and the dead girl begins to be uncovered. This is an unsettling book infused with a dreamy sensuality.
6. The Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille
You will not find weirder sex scenes anywhere in literature. This surrealist novel written in 1928 feels like it has plunged its sticky fingers into your dreams and pulled them, still pulsing, out into the world. Eyeballs, eggs, bullfights, urination, decapitation. These things belong in your subconscious but on the page they are incredibly compelling.
7. Crash by J G Ballard
This 1973 novel is the story of James Ballard who survives a car crash which kills the other driver. As he recovers, James finds that he is aroused by car crashes and he is not the only one. He begins an affair with the wife of the driver he killed and is introduced to other people who have symphorophilia and are aroused by traffic accidents. This relentlessly sexual book explores the interconnectedness between humans and machines. The cars are treated with the same sexuality as the people.
8. The Lover by Marguerite Duras
This prizewinning autobiographical novel set just outside of Saigon was written in 1985. It details the first affair of a teenaged girl who falls in love with a rich older Chinese man. It is a coming of age novel with all the passion and pain that first love can bring with it, sensual, sexy and worldly.
9. The House of the Sleeping Beauties by Yasunari Kawabata
Egucchi visits a house where the old lady who runs it provides a bed for old weary travellers. For a price an old man can pay to sleep beside a naked and unconscious young girl. The house rules prevent the old men from doing anything to their sleeping companions. Egucchi returns to the house many times and the naked sleeping girls rekindle memories of his youth. At first he sticks to the rules and barely touches the young girls but he becomes bolder with each visit. He is not the only patron and other visitors are not as polite as Egucchi. This novella written in Japanese in 1961 is a very unsettling mix of creepy, sexy, sad and gorgeously nostalgic.
10. Diary of a Mad Old Man by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki
Utsugi has had a stroke but that has not quelled his libido. Written in diary entries, the seventy-seven year old Utsugi develops a sexual obsession for his young daughter-in-law Satsuko who ministers to his frail body. This book is sensual, darkly erotic and also quite funny. Tanizaki was one of the great writers of Japanese literature and Diary of a Mad Old Man was his last major work written in 1961.
Krissy Kneen is the prize-winning author of memoir, fiction and poetry. Her latest novel is The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex Machine. Krissy is based in Brisbane and Holly White is published on Dec 31st, 2015 by Text Publishing.
Photo of Krissy is by Anthony Mullins
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