The Mistress Contract by She and He

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The Mistress Contract by She and He

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Category: Lifestyle
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A flashback to a unique take on partnership, and feminism, but nothing to lead us down the titillating path suggested by the book's background – or the way the publishers present it.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 160 Date: November 2013
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
ISBN: 9781846689437

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Women feel a reluctance to talk about those things which should be mysterious. Well, not all of them. This line – and I won't say who says it – is a quote from a large audio archive of the thoughts of a most unusual couple. College friends, they split apart then got back together, and ended up having an affair. Until she decided to formalise it in a momentary flash of, well, something, saying she would cede all to his every sexual and housework wishes if he would cater for her financially and with a place to live. Nowhere did that small contract say that they would open up themselves to public scrutiny with recordings of their conversations, over a restaurant table or in bed or a car having a tete-a-tete, but they soon did – and these small pages are the resulting book.

But don’t come to them thinking this is anything like an ordinary couple in any regard. To quote her, You gave a lecture last night on existentialism… To quote him, there's an international city in my brain and… I want to learn all its suburbs, and it's linear versus Gestalt. They both fall easily into referencing Ibsen characters in a feminism context. And they both know they are speaking to each other and to the tape – several times one of them will reference the book they are joined in writing, and talk about what they should be including or not in the light of how they want to appear, and what they think their audience will become.

And that's the crux of it. Despite the blurb saying this is yade-yada, it isn't. The blurb says this is a story – it isn't, however successfully it's been edited for a stage production. The most revealing quote I can offer is the line so far there's too much talk about sex. This is revelatory because there's hardly been any. You really do struggle to find out what the contract that the book is allegedly about results in. Yes, there are chapters here and there – especially near the beginning – where they discuss how it defines them as a couple (noticeably when they decide it's more satisfactory than a marriage contract) but on the whole the contents are so tangential, so dated (literally undated as a rule, but talk of Reagan being shot three days ago etc is evidence for the court) and so woolly that we don't learn what the whole social exercise resulted in.

Flashes of intimacy, therefore, are more than welcome, especially when it does concern two meaty, intelligent characters as these. She can compare and contrast her acceptance of the contract she wrote with her willingness or otherwise to give a blow job. They can debate together about post-childhood celibacy and the intimate mother-child feelings that grandstand in a woman's brain as opposed to thoughts of sexual fulfilment. He can say she seems very feminist yet won't tell him exactly what floats her boat sexually, she says she daren't reveal what, in case it becomes the new hum-drum, and anyway he's too masculinist to accept such information without feeling debased.

As a result there is some form of enlightening book to be had here, that of a singular couple's debate regarding many feminine/socio-political issues. But for anyone wishing to see the salubrious, the sexy, the scandalous response of these people to their unusual circumstances, well these just aren't here. I note that among the blurb on the cover, the edition simply classifies this as 'non-fiction'. Well, the Dewey Decimal system would probably have a category for 'gender relationships/historical/private lives/slightly pretentious people', if not the regular book cover. But if anyone buys this thinking it is to be shelved anywhere else, they may well be wanting their money back.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

We got our rocks off more successfully to The Sex Diaries by Arianne Cohen.

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