Cover Image: O


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Member Reviews

Thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this book for an honest review.

I'm not sure what the point of this book was but it fell flat for me. I didn't learn anything in this I couldn't have learnt reading a Wikipedia page about The Story of O. Disappointing.
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"O" by Steven Carroll provided an interesting and rare perspective from a woman in occupied France during the Second World War. Dominique is a character who grapples with her own identity, her own country, past and writing. She pens under a pseudonym to express her inner feelings, that 'O', the same as France has become submissive to outer pressures and wants. 

Although the idea behind this novel was promising, I found the writing too pretentious and painful to get through. Some of the conversations and observations were conventional to what we would classify as French culture, and I wanted something that was a bit more fresh, particularly from a protagonist such as Dominique who loves to provide the unexpected.
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I have been sitting on this review for a while, as I haven’t quite known what to write to do this book justice. It is unlike what I expected, and whilst halfway through I did not think I would be able to read more, I continued, and was so glad I did. The book is so well written, with such apt descriptions that it was able to evoke such strong images of what was playing out.

The book begins in Paris in the early 1940s, when Dominique meets with a publisher and begins an affair with him. When the war is over, with the fear of losing him, Dominique writes him a novel - an erotic novel, meant only for his eyes. The novel ends up published, and causes a huge scandal - but for what reason?

This was such a cleverly written book, and the ending blew me away. It is so thought provoking, that I definitely recommend those who like something a little different read. There are significant trigger warnings though, so please contact me if you want to know what they are.

Thanks to @netgalley and @harpercollinsaustralia for the opportunity to review this book. O is out now.
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An interesting look into life during the 1940's, of a women caught in an illicit affair with a publisher, and the fallout when she writes an erotic novel. A great snapshot in time, which had me intrigued.
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Wow! What a read. I’m not sure where to start but this was a beautifully story about the novel  ‘O‘ which was written as a ‘fairy tale’ love letter to her married lover but once published became a national scandal due to its erotic nature . 
During the occupation of France in 1943 Dominique Aury a middle aged woman begins an affair with a married man Jean who is a well known publisher. The affair lasts a lifetime and although they never spend a night together they steal secret hours in a shabby hotel room. The book tells their story and within that story is how the novel of O takes on a life of its own. 
 ‘O’ is about submission and shame but is the story about love and lovers or is it about a country’s submission in war. There are so many levels to this book which makes it a truly wonderful read. You will fall in love with the characters.
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”O” by Steven Carroll is set during France’s most shameful hour; 1943 and the Nazis occupy the country. Dominique and her married lover Jean have just started what will be a lifelong love affair. Through the years they enter a “sacred realm” and share passion for eachother, literature, and danger. Jean is part of the Resistance and involves Dominique in a perilous mission, one that will have a lasting effect on her writing and life. The years pass and Jean’s attention wavers so Dominique writes a love letter to him to challenge his asunder in the form of an erotic book called “The Story of O” which causes much controversy. It is a story of woman who sexually and figuratively submits to her lover and allows herself to be defiled and dominated. Yet, the submission of “O” is not what it seems; “she seems to turn her degradation into strength”.

”O” is the intoxicating, suspenseful and captivating tale of an enigmatic woman, who dared to write honestly and freely during turbulent and conservative times.

The pillar of this novel is Carroll’s poetic and beautifully descriptive prose. It is the sublime way he describes the minutia of a scene that really sets the mesmerising tone of this book. The drizzle of rain on a Parisian street; “There is no urgency in this rain, it’s got all day to fall”. Each scene is so vivid and it’s truly an immersive experience.

The rich symbolism imbued in this novel is just breathtaking. Who is “O”, the character who creates so much scandal in France? Is it Dominique, who’s lover “pimped” her out to the Resistance to participate in a dangerous mission? Does “O” represent occupied France? The “submissive whore” who “submits willingly” to the Germans? Does “O” symbolise the repression of women at that time? These are the questions posed by Carroll and it is a testament to his superb writing that so much meditation in invoked in the reader.

I was utterly enthralled by each page of this truly magical book book which will lingered with me long after I turned the last page.

Thank you @netgalley @harpercollinsaustralia and Steven Carroll for this ARC. Available now.
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This is the most amazing book I have ever read! It was so unexpectedly brilliant. 

The publishers blurb is excellent:

“A woman writes a story for her married lover. Something she always thought of as a fairy tale. A fairy tale with a dark side, like the best of fairy tales...'
Occupied France, 1943. France's most shameful hour. In these dark times, Dominique starts an illicit affair with a distinguished publisher, a married man. He introduces her to the Resistance, and she comes to have a taste for the clandestine life - she has never felt more alive. Shortly after the war, to prove something to her lover, she writes an erotic novel about surrender, submission and shame. Never meant to be published, Story of O becomes a national scandal and success, the world's most famous erotic novel. But what is the story really about - Dominique, her lover, or the country and the wartime past it would rather forget?:

There are indeed many, many levels in this story - a story within a story, about a story and a story about a story being written. The voice of Dominique runs strongly as the tale unfolds covering from 1943 to 1998 - an amazing period of time where one women holds your focus as she faces her life before her and we, the reader, join with her in this journey. Is there an incredible amount of symbolism and philosophical delving or is it a simple story of a woman in love?  Whatever your take on it, it is profound! 

While profound, it is very readable and believable. Highly recommended read!

Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins Publishers Australia for an ebook to read and review.
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‘No one is allowed to escape the symbols of occupation until …what? Amnesia sets in and the country forgets itself?’

The novel opens in occupied France in 1943. Dominique Aury feels a desperate need to do something: she loves her country and simultaneously hates it. She wants work that is not German propaganda, and it is becoming harder to find each day. She meets Jean Paulhan. They become colleagues and eventually lovers. He is an older man, with a wife. She has been married and has a child. She has also changed her name. Dominique becomes caught up in the French Resistance and she helps a woman she knows only as Pauline Réage to escape. (Those who have read ‘The Story of O’ may recognise these names.)

‘Names are good like that, you can reinvent yourself with a new one.’

This novel is a meditative reflection on how a story comes to be written, and who and what it might really be about. In part, this novel is about Dominique as O, rather than ‘The Story of O’. In part it is about the occupation of France., and about memory of the past. Only a man, it was thought, could write such a story. Dominique sets out to disprove this and becomes enmeshed.

‘There is a young woman, known only as ‘O’, walking through a city park with her lover.’

Dominique intends the story for her married lover with no wider circulation, but it is published. And once published, the story is no longer confined. The private becomes public, knowledge is assumed.

‘It occurs to her that is what O is doing: consenting to be the possession of strangers.  And in this sense, in the event of publication, would she not become her character?

‘The Story of O’ has its own life quite independent of the author, it is part of O, it is part of France, it is part of the past. And what does it mean, when a story becomes detached from its context, when a private fairy tale becomes public property? And then, when, the author and recipient grow older, where does the fairy tale fit then?

‘But that’s the problem with the past. It never stays past.’

This is another beautifully written novel by Steven Carroll. The themes of the novel, of surrender, submission and shame apply to O and to France during this period. Both will move on, but the past cannot be ignored. 

‘The lover for whom the love letter was written is gone. That world has passed. This one is not hers anymore.’

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins Publishers Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.  

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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