Author: Nicholson Baker
Details: (c) Nicholson Baker 1992; Pub Granta Books 1992; ISBN 0-14-014057-3
Verdict: Well written but in the end probably not my thing
Reasons for reading it: I approve in principle of text porn. Because I don't have any problem with stuff that is deliberately created for sexual enjoyment, and with text there aren't any issues of consent as there can be with visual porn. And besides, I like words. I massively agree with j4 on this subject.
The two erotic novels I've most often heard favourably described are Vox and The story of O; I was put off the latter because it's about S&M. So it was pretty obvious that at some point in my life I'd have to read Vox.
How it came into my hands: I picked it up in a second-hand bookshop in Edinburgh.
OK, this review is obviously going to be somewhat explicit. So if you're a child, or uncomfortable with reading about my reactions to erotic writing, then don't follow this link. Duh.
The concept of a novella based on a phone sex conversation is a clever one. Because clearly it's a book about sexy words, there's a lot less disconnection between the words and what's being described than there would be in most other scenarios. And Vox is undoubtedly well done; it's good writing by any criteria. It doesn't exactly have a plot, as such, but it certainly has a structure, rather than just being a random collection of sex scenes, and the two lovers are reasonably solid characters, not just anonymous lumps of flesh.
It does rely quite a lot on one particular trick, namely describing physical sensations (such as the texture of a particular fabric or similar) in almost excruciating detail, but there's a reasonable variety of scenarios at least. I was slightly irritated by the way it almost sanctimoniously claims the moral high ground; it keeps going on about the fact that, guess what, guys, it's possible for a man to be interested in sex and still respect women! Guess what, it's possible for women to be interested in sex without being slappers! Yes, I am put off by the kind of porn that degrades women, but I didn't need the continued emphasis on, look everybody, this is nice porn!
I think the main reason why I didn't get that much out of Vox was that I'm basically more interested in reading than... stuff I'm not actually going to describe explicitly in a public forum. So I kept being distracted from the physiological effects of reading this kind of stuff because I wanted to read. I got round this to an extent by reading in small doses rather than straight through (I've been reading Vox on and off for the best part of a month by now). Basically I think this is a 'problem' with me rather than a criticism of the book; I think the conclusion is that I probably prefer the odd sex scene in a wider context rather than an entire novella about sex.
Although as I've said the quality of writing is good, I think what I was hoping for was particular phrases that would be memorable as phrases. And Vox doesn't really have any of that.