Love Bends and Curves Like Space and Time
Years ago, when I was working in a second-hand book shop, a woman came in seeking a novel. Title? Publisher? Author? She couldn’t remember. ‘It’s all about a man and a woman. They fall in love!’ she announced, indignantly, when I professed bewilderment. I was about to suggest that we began with the Troubadors and proceeded to Anais Nin by way of D.H Lawrence, but by then she’d stomped out, obviously dissatisfied with my lack of bibliographical recall.
Chloe Thurlow with her new novel Katie in Love has taken the oldest story in the world and made it her own, making it new in the process – and making it memorable. This tale of Katie’s progress from wild erotic experiment to sexual and emotional fulfilment is infused with passion, wit, and self-knowledge. It’s propelled by an intense love of life – and language.
The appeal of Katie’s first-person narrative lies in the sharp focus of her consciousness. Katie is a writer of erotic fiction, which scandalises her posh mother and places her as a partial outsider, despite her privileged background as a convent school pupil. Intelligent and educated (BA Cambridge) her sensibilities are fine-tuned and allied to a flair for vivid imagery and felicitous phrasing, whether she’s evoking the transgressive delights of prolonged oral sex or the more sedate pleasures of a family lunch in a Surrey farmhouse.
Katie doesn’t miss a thing when it comes to social observation and the black comedy of metropolitan manners, which encompasses the piggery of champagne-fuelled executives at the corporate functions where she sometimes waitresses, the niceties of lesbian flirtation at exclusive Soho clubs and the narcissism of floppy-haired ‘resting’ actors and media types. She celebrates the secret rites of girls as she chooses the right knickers, the definitive top, the Jimmy Choo shoes. But she’s equally alert to contradictions in her own attitudes, especially as her relationship with Tom develops. He’s a doctor working with Sri Lankan orphans, whose indifference to worldly possessions challenges her hedonistic lifestyle. But he’s fantastic in bed…
Love Bends Freshly
If you’ve read Chloe Thurlow’s earlier books like The Secret Life of Girls, you won’t be surprised to learn that the sex sequences are created with remarkable freshness of language and insight, as Katie comes to realise that through role-play and artifice – symbolised by the mask she wears as they make love – the deep energy of her sexuality is released.
As her involvement with Tom deepens, reflections on her earlier affairs and the enigma of sex are deftly interwoven with the ongoing narration. She lost her virginity in a situation that could be construed as both exploitative and liberating. And her Cambridge tutor’s chastisement when correcting her essay went further than merely giving her a D grade – yet also expanded her intellectual horizons.
There is a depth and complexity to her analysis of her sexual history – and of Tom’s – which reflects the existential ambiguity of lived experience, instead of falling back on ideological stereotyping. She discovers her ‘core values’ -a phrase much debased by politicians but useful here – so inevitably is forced to make bold decisions when Tom returns to his work in Sri Lanka.
‘When you add love to sex it feels as if your soul is being drawn from the chains of gravity into the core of the infinite. Love bends and curves like space and time.’ Chloe Thurlow has pushed against the boundaries of the erotic fiction genre to create something highly distinctive and individual. I look forward to her next book.