The Lady Is a Tramp

Millet divides the book into thematic sections in which she eloquently dissects childhood fantasies, jealousy, and space. As someone who grew up in very cramped circumstances (at one point her mother shared her bed), Millet is a fervent advocate of having sex in the open, where enjoyment of the landscape mingles with sexual rapture.

Her prose is lovely and surprising. More startling, however, is her claim that she'd never analyzed her behavior until writing this book, and didn't understand the mechanisms of orgasms until late in life. That's a pretty strange admission for an intellectual who must've been aware of American feminist writing on the subject and of French theorists who celebrated female sexuality as a basis for l'écriture feminine. So either Millet is being dishonest, or she enjoys playing hide-and-seek with the reader, refusing to resolve publicly some of the deeper psychosexual issues that rumble through this seemingly self-revelatory book.

Catherine M. lies at the center of a throng while strangers penetrate, lick, and caress her.
photo: Editions du Seuil, Jacques Henric
Catherine M. lies at the center of a throng while strangers penetrate, lick, and caress her.

Although Millet offers the would-be voyeur only a limited view of her life, she nevertheless gives us access to some of its most secret crevices—thoughts and images too perilous and unsettling for average conversation. She uses sex as a way to learn about the world as much as for pleasure: It provides her with access to all kinds of people and places, and replaces the tedium of daily life with a sense of adventure. The Sexual Life of Catherine M. gives us a titillating glimpse of Millet's alternative universe, where everyday objects reveal themselves to be sex toys and offices become pleasure domes.

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