Toni Bentley, The Surrender, Author, New York Times

Toni Bentley's THE SURRENDER - Erotic Review

The Erotic Review, Issue 69, Fall 2005
by Barry Humphries

Toni Bentley in the Erotic ReviewAn Australian-American girl has just written and published an extraordinary book extolling the joys of anal sex. Naturally, she has been heartily slapped by almost everyone; especially by that worthy gang who always, predictably, find pornography “boring.”

It is possible for a detailed depiction – verbal or pictorial – of the world’s most interesting subject, to be maladroit, or merely pedestrian. In films sexual acts may be performed by unattractive people, or people we might prefer to read about, but a cavalcade of lubricity is never actually boring. Not seldom it is absorbing to the exclusion of all else. “Boring” is a Puritan exculpation. It is rarely believable.

When the sexual embarrassments of President Clinton were receiving their maximum press coverage, an Australian wrote to the New York Times thanking God he’d been born in Sydney. “We Aussies,” he said, and I paraphrase,” are the descendants of convicts, and our culture shows it. You Americans inhabit a land founded by Puritans!” The Puritan culture of America has not succeeded in quelling the fires of lust which smolder in every natural man and woman, but it has distorted the American perception of sex, and the infinite variety of its expression. Taboos remain, and the theme of Miss Bentley’s book is one of them.

Yet in spite of Puritan anathemas against non-procreative sex, masturbation and oral sex are now almost respectable middle-class activities enshrined in Philip Roth’s infamous novella to, for example, and even introduced into an episode of Sex in the City when Samantha’s friend performs an under-the-table blow-job. Yet heterosexual sodomy, that venerable and even logical alternative to “natural” coition, is still branded naughty and even, perverted.

As a young man and sexual novice in Sydney, certainly in the louche “bohemian” circles I moved in, many girls actually requested this equally pleasurable and infinitely safer option. Yet why, in modern America, is the impersonal act of fellatio pretty well institutionalized, and the more visceral and passionate act which Miss Bentley celebrates, still has the power to shock, dismay and disgust?

I hope I have not implied in an earlier paragraph that Miss Bentley’s paean to the posterior pleasures is a work of pornography. It describes itself as a memoir, but it is, in fact, an autobiographical fragment by a young woman of charm and intelligence, in which she concentrates on her initiation into a specific sexual taste. Like other works of erotic literature it is obsessive, intense and attentive to detail, and there are flashes of humour, generally absent from lesser works of the genre.

Here and there it’s endearingly crazy, with a few literary references thrown in to demonstrate that the author is no mere libidinous lowbrow. You like Miss Bentley as you certainly don’t like Catherine M, whose dreary and neurotic “sex diary” was published a few years back.

The Surrender is written by a real woman with an axe, and even an ass, to grind. By total coincidence I read, years ago, her book Winter Season: A Dancer’s Journal and admired then her breathless honesty and directness. Here she takes a taboo subject and serves it up to us hot. It’s a touching, even heroic book for those of us who often wonder what all the fuss is about.

Not merely a “User’s Guide” to sodomy (quaint old word), or a livre gallante to be “read with one hand,” The Surrender is none the less a sexy little volume, possessing, like its author, more than one exciting passage.

Barry Humphries is an Australian comedian, satirist and character actor best known for his on-stage and television alter egos Dame Edna Everage, a Melbourne housewife, and Sir Les Patterson Australia's foul-mouthed cultural attaché to Britain. Humphries is also a film producer and script writer, a star of London's West End musical theatre, an award-winning writer and an accomplished landscape painter.

Toni Bentley in the New York Times Book Review

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