With My Body
by Nikki Gemmell
Harper Perennial; June 19, 2012
From the back cover:
“A wife, a mother of three, she has everything a woman should want–and yet she has gone numb inside. Locked in a never-ending cycle of chores, errands, and mealtimes, she cannot find a way to live her life with the honesty and passion that once drove her. Even her husband, whom she loves, has never truly touched the core of her being. Only one person has ever come close. In desperation, she returns to the memory of an old love affair–a transformative relationship with consequences she has never fully resolved. Revisiting her past, she will begin an exhilarating journey into her sexuality while finally confronting the hidden truths of her heart.
Exquisitely lyrical, bold, and seductive, With My Body is a thought-provoking exploration of family, sex, marriage, and love–the love we give, withhold, and surrender to.”
When I signed up to read this book for BOOK CLUB, I wasn’t sure I would like it. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not really a fan of romance novels, and the description above doesn’t fully appeal to me. It was the part about being a mother and feeling like life consists of never-ending chores and loss of self that caught my attention, and as I’ve done many times since starting this blog, I decided to set aside my doubts and read the book. I was pleasantly surprised–it has a good storyline, it’s well-written, and it’s interestingly-constructed.
The main theme of With My Body is women’s sexuality and its fluidity–how it can be affected in good and bad ways, and how it changes over time. With My Body is organized into a set of lessons for women, inspired by a Victorian book titled A Woman’s Thoughts About Women, written by Dinah Maria Mulock Craik and published in 1858. This book plays a predominant role in the narrator’s life, and every chapter of With My Body is labeled with a phrase from the Victorian book, then tells a corresponding part of the narrator’s story. I really liked this set-up. In addition, With My Body is written in second person, with the main character of the novel going unnamed; in this way, Gemmell turns the narrator into an Everywoman, which worked very well for me. It was very easy for me to put myself in the narrator’s shoes and get pulled into the story. (I’m a natural empath, though, so this may not be as easy for other readers–sometimes the second person point of view throws readers off.)
The majority of With My Body is about the narrator’s first, transformative love affair. There are some who will have a problem with the ages of the narrator and her lover at the time of their affair: she is sixteen or seventeen and he is quite a bit older, although his age is never given. I would guess him to be in his late 20′s or early 30′s, maybe. A dissertation on the psychological maturity of girls/women compared to that of boys/men doesn’t belong on a book blog, so I will just say that I don’t have a problem with the age difference. A couple of the sex scenes made me uncomfortable purely on a personal level, though, and I was perturbed that contraception was never mentioned or used–the total lack of any discussion or thought about pregnancy felt unrealistic to me. But to enjoy this book and to learn something from it, I think it’s imperative that readers lay judgment aside and just be in the moment of the story, so that’s what I did. I went from thinking I wouldn’t necessarily like it, to being completely surprised by how much I enjoyed it (and shedding some tears).
While I don’t think this book is for everyone, it is not just a sexy story and I think many women will be able to relate to the narrator in one way or another. With My Body is a book about being empowered by our sexuality, not ashamed of it. It’s about knowing who we are and what we want out of life, and the potential consequences of forgetting that or acting in contradiction to it. I had the experience of learning these lessons long ago (through trial and error, emphasis on error), so I could really connect with the narrator and her psychological/emotional growth over the course of the story. I did a lot of underlining, so I’m going to leave you with some of my favorite quotes:
From the main story:
“‘Love that body God has given you, all its miraculous gifts,’ he commands, ‘what it can do, what it’s changing you into.’ As you do, you realize the great secret: an enjoyment of sex isn’t about technique, or cleavage, or a perfect body.
It’s about confidence.”
“You must never be pushed to the side of your life, from the core of who you are, you must never let a man do that.”
“Because you know now that you feel too much. And you will be cursed by this fragility your entire life. Raw, skinned, with a huge open heart and what a combination to set forth into the real world with.”
From A Woman’s Thoughts About Women:
“To many, truth comes only after the self-control, watchfulness, and bitter experience of years”
“There is no anguish like youth’s pain–so total, so hopeless, blotting out earth and heaven, falling down upon the whole being like a stone”
“Kindliness, unselfishness, charity, come to us by nature: but I wish I could see more of my fellow souls practising what is far more difficult–common justice, especially towards one another”
“If man is without occupation, what a poor creature he becomes!–what a dawdling, moping, sitting-over-the-fire, thumb-twiddling, lazy, ill-tempered animal! And why? ‘Oh, poor fellow! ‘Tis because he has got nothing to do!’ Yet this is precisely the condition of women for a third, a half, often the whole of their existence.”
(Warnings: sexual content, language)
(To learn more about Nikki Gemmell, please visit her website.)
**If you choose to purchase this title using any of the links below, I will receive a small percentage of the sale (to be used toward site maintenance and buying more books).
(I received a copy of this book from the publisher through BOOK CLUB.)