Book provided by the author for reviewing purposes
A friend of mine (names withheld to protect the guilty) went through a peculiar situation - he'd always thought of himself as gay, and suddenly he fell in love with a girl. He was going crazy thinking it over, rethinking it, over-thinking it: what did that make him? Who was he?
In our group we tried to be reassuring, but we were failing. But another friend came to the rescue:
"Don't over-analyse. The cock wants what the cock wants."
Simple, but genius.
Obviously, this is worded more elegantly in the book, but I personally like the core of that message:
"She had decided to follow her feelings instead of defining the situation through assumptive social constructs which might have been helpful to some but were staggeringly deficient in Cassie’s case."
Cassie and Jemma's relationship was too abrupt in its inception - not saying unrealistic because it could happen - but it doesn't make for an involved reading experience from the reader's point of view. There's the illicit relationship, hiding in closets and bathrooms. But we barely know Cassie, and we don't know Jemma at all, at this point. Why should we care, really? Personally, I needed more.
The sublimation of the emotional component with sex wasn't really my thing, to be honest. Oh, I believe you can have sex without love, that's not the issue I have with this, it's that when there are situations that needed to be talked out, emotional issues resolved, they were replaced with sex. Realistic? Yes. But again... I needed more.
And the thing is, all the sex described was very clinical - yes there is a relationship ahead where it's meant to be read as clinical (I won't go into that because of spoilers!) - but even when it was described in other relationships it just brought me back to my anatomy and physiology classes.
Though this is a book about Cassie's sexual awakening, the sexual portions were, in my opinion, the weakest. This book's strong point is in the contemplations of a myriad of issues, not necessarily sexually related.
Jemma seems to like Cassie because she's socially inept. Why?
What little true intimacy there is between them is shown as "They spent the rest of the night texting opinions about actors, books and politics." Show us, don't tell us. Involve the reader, makes us care about these girls!
I like that Jemma doesn't allow slut shaming to diminish her, but she and Cassie generalise too much. There is more at work behind the patriarchal roots of slut shaming, it's not just envy or trying to destroy what they perceive to be a failing in themselves. It's more complex than that. More pernicious.
All in all, I'm not certain what this book is trying to be: an erotic retelling of Cassie's sexual awakening, reflections on sexual issues? Both at the same time?
The pacing doesn't lend itself to this.
Mind you, it's very well-written, pacing is something else. You can have perfectly structured sentences in a polished discussion of what constitutes being "other" in society. It makes for good reading. Unless it's stuck in-between a sex scene where the character says they're overwhelmed by desire... but not so much that they can't pause several times to discuss slut shaming, what exactly constitutes sexual deviancy, etc.
Again, they can't be concurrent. It's one or the other. Or one, followed by the other, or prefaced by the other. Trying to do both just pulls the reader out of the story because it's so surreal.
Especially since, as Cassie herself notes, at the end of their second encounter she's still surprised Jemma knows her name.
Mind you, most of my erotic readings of the non PR/HR/SFR-variety were of Anaïs Nin - who used language masterfully and, let's be truthful, her stories are a bit highbrow. But they involved the reader into the story.
So when I complain that Dogging is too intellectualised for the subject matter, what I mean is that, though Cassie decides not to over-think one aspect of her sexual awakening, she over-thinks everything else. At the wrong time. Pulling the reader from what is actually taking place while she is over-analysing how to react, or not, and why.
Jemma may be comfortable with who she is, but she goes through life as if she's playing a part, she's pretentious and the issue of consent is murky between them, which for me is always a turn off.
And Cassie's attachment to her is not healthy: saying she never has to apologise to her.... There is taking responsibility for yourself and your actions, and there's realising that actions have reactions and no one lives in a vacuum.
And Jemma... there needs to be more to the character, she can't be just this. It's a very dehumanizing view of her.
For instance: she was crying... why? We move on, as if it's irrelevant, and see Jemma as only the object of desire, the seductress. We're told a lot of what Cassie believes Jemma to be, and it falls within very convenient labels (though Cassie seems to refuse them for herself). Even though Jemma is seen through Cassie's eyes, she's described as if being seen through the traditional male gaze. Considering the issues discussed in the book, this is not acceptable.
Also not acceptable: Jemma being manipulative when it comes to sex, be it with Cassie or with other people. Again, being coerced is the opposite of consent.
The power imbalance in Cassie's relationships is disturbing. Cassie is always reluctant, Jemma or Lane are always pushing. Cassie is always feeling guilty for not trusting Jemma or Lane to know what she will like.
No. Just no. How about Cassie knowing what she likes? How about Cassie taking control of her life, as she claimed to want to? How about Cassie backing out of situations that make her uncomfortable instead of forcing herself to go on so as not to disappoint Jemma or Lane? This was very problematic.
Lane, with his particular sexual proclivities, was somehow more real - he was ironically more animated and a deeper character than Jemma. Not that his relationship with Cassie was anything even in the vicinity of ideal. Lane has his issues and Cassie has a severe self-esteem problem. She always believes herself to be undeserving of whichever partner she's with.
And here's the weirdest thing about this book: I'd expect this if it were written by a man, but why is it that a book written by a woman spends more time developing Lane, the male character, delving into his personality, in a way that wasn't afforded to Jemma?
Why was there girl on girl hate on a book like this? Why is a woman being blamed for not returning a man's feelings, but he isn't blamed for doing the same to another woman?
For all its talk of sexual issues, both Cassie and Jemma declare themselves to be virgins after having sex with each other... I don't get it? What have we been reading, then? The concept of virginity (because it is merely a concept) isn't terminated by a penis entering a vagina. And virginity should never ever be said to be a girl's "most prized possession". A woman's value isn't between her thighs. I'm baffled by the importance given to the idea of virginity throughout this book.
But there were also brilliant and genuinely funny moments in this book, and I really did like the writing.
And I loved that Cassie grows as a person. That she realises she objectifies Jemma, that she comes to understand her emotionally stunted state and take some responsibility for it, that she sees she may be making the wrong choices out of loneliness. Even if it's extremely exasperating that she doesn't realise she deserves so much more, that she only sees herself being transformed by what others do to her, what others bring into her life, what others make her see.