Thursday, 31 March 2011

Story of O by Pauline Réage (3/5) ***Spoiler Alert***

I finished reading this on Monday, but haven't been able to write anything about it because it left my mind all over the place.

The story starts off with O and her boyfriend, René, taking a taxi to the château of Roissy. Once inside O is subjected to systematic sexual [ab]use and whippings by numerous men - including René, who leaves her after a week, only to return a week later to bring her home. Before leaving the mansion, O is given a ring and told that it is a sign that she must allow herself to be used in any way by anyone who knows its significance. 

Once home, O goes back to working as a photographer and things return to, what I assume, their normal lives. Until René introduces O to his step/half brother, Sir Stephen, and informs her that she has to do exactly what he tells her, although technically René is still her master. O is told that she can refuse if she wants to, but then René will leave her and she will never see him again. Being madly in love with him, she agrees. Life goes on, and the longer O is used by Sir Stephen, she realises that she wants for him to love her. Which he eventually does. And when that happens, he asks O if she will agree to be marked as his.

She does.

So she is driven out to a house somewhere and gets a labia piercing with rings marked with Sir Stephens initials and insignia, as well as his initials branded on her buttocks. A series of events happen that I can't be arsed to write about, but the story ends with O being taken to a party, naked but for an owl mask. She sits in a corner quietly while the guests treat her like an object, coming up to look at her with curiosity. The last sentence stating that when the guests have all gone, Sir Stephen and another man "make use of her", for lack of a better expression.

The last page of the edition I have says: "There existed another ending to the story of O. Seeing herself about to be left by Sir Stephen, she preferred to die. To which he gave his consent." 

I say: It has taken me a couple of days to actually come to terms with this book, which I didn't expect. I've read BDSM stories before, and I'm perfectly fine with the lifestyle, so for me, it was O's thoughts that unnerved me the most. When first taken to the mansion, O says in response to being left there by René:

"She did not want to die; but if torture were the price she was to have to pay for her lover's continuing love, then she only hoped he would be happy because of what she had undergone [...]." - p. 40

Which is all well and good, I guess, only that once she is marked as Sir Stephen's and begins loving him, she feels:

"[...] here it is, come at last, the day I've always been so afraid would come: when for René I'd turn into a shadow belonging to a past life, a life that has been led and that is now gone be. And I am not even sad, now that it has come, and I only feel sorry for him, pity is all I feel, and I can see him every day without feeling hurt that he no longer desires me, without bitterness, without regret." - p.239

This fickleness reminds me of Romeo in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, and the reason why I never liked that play. See, at the beginning of the play, Romeo is madly in love with Rosaline, but then as soon as he sees Juliet, he's madly in love with her. And then they go and kill themselves for absolutely no good reason.

And that is what I found so disturbing about O.

Her relationship with Sir Stephen is different from that of René, since the first was a lot more dominant, and thus the submission is greater. But to allow herself to be marked by Sir Stephen, knowing very well that she had just recently been declaring her love for René in the same way, makes her seem silly in my eyes. However, if the story had ended as it does, I wouldn't have thought as much of it, but that alternative ending did me in.

It simultaneously ties everything together and tears it all apart.

I understand that O wanted nothing but to be an object to Sir Stephen, her value defined by his use of her. And so if he loses interest in her, she'd rather die. But she had merely replaced René with Sir Stephen, so was it because she was marked?

Gah, I can't deal with this anymore.

Instead of analysing this to no end, I'll conclude by saying that it was a rather quick read, despite the poor language. I don't know if I bought a particularly bad translation, but it did irk me every now and then. Also there was a lot of plot and people that didn't feel relevant at all, almost as if it was only there as filler.

So yeah, I give it a 3 out of 5 because the story really wasn't that special, if not for the alternative ending, so I'm grateful they put that bit in. There's a part 2 of this story, so we'll see if I pick that up. Knowing myself, I probably will.


  1. Being marked was an indication that Sir Stephen was selfish. Suppose that he had been killed by a meteorite; she would still have had the mark and would have had to explain it to anyone she was intimate with.

    But given her previous experience with René (where his statement that she would never see him again if she didn't do everything Sir Stephen told her led to a contradiction with the idea that he cared about her, given the social norms against relationships with more than two people) it was possible that Sir Stephen had only done things that forced her to conclude he was selfish out of a concern for her future so her experience with René would not be repeated. The second ending was a way of showing how it was possible for her to maintain a consistent perception that he was not selfish, even if it led to her death.

    The reason it was not possible to offer only a single ending is similar to the question offered in "The Lady, or the Tiger?" — whether people are, by nature, good or bad.

  2. I have never read a stupider book in my life- and cant understand why it was ever even published, lt alone that it is a so-called classic.

  3. I cannot understand O's thinking ... really. I think it is quite foreign to me at the moment. I might have been able to understand her state of mind 10 years ago when I had a whole lot less self-esteem, self-respect and self-worth, but at the moment, I find this kind of "I am willing to allow myself to be abused to stay with my man" is like totally..... abused wife syndrome. I dunno why this is a classic.. and I am sorry I dun read french, cos the nuance might be different because of the language.

    1. Okay I just have to say this... i read some of the bits from Roissy and decided that the book isn't even a good description about the bdsm lifestyle. The whole Roissy episode can only be described as exploitation, plain and simple. O knew a guy, he brought her to what is essentially a brothel to be prostituted... Compare the scenes from it to any scene written about a standard brothel. A gal who may or may not have had sexual experience is brought there not knowing where she has landed up. Then she is taken into the brothel and is systemically raped or conditoned to reduce her reluctance to engage in multiple sex acts with strangers. Except in O's case, she aren't even paid. I mean I would find the scenes less offensive IF they were about a brothel for depraved rich men and somehow O was tricked to go there and then blackmailed by her love for her lover to stay.

      I mean, the valets are the ones who whip O most of the time. I would think in a master-sub situation, the masters would rather do most of the whipping for the high it creates. As is written in the book, the guys at Roissy are just there to get sex from all these duped ladies.