Sunday, February 12, 2006

Book Review: Sex & Sensibility

I stopped by my local library to pick up a book I had ordered and decided to peruse the New Book section to see what was there.

Sex and Sensibility, written in elegant, dark fuschia script againt a pale pink spine, jumped out at me. I read the subtitle: The Adventures of a Jane Austen Addict. I read the blurb. I checked the book out and read it last night. It's only 255 pages, with large type and lots of white space.

Some of the writing is actually good and clever. The beginning of Chapter Two starts out: "In a world beset by terrorism, free fall economics, bad hairstyles, and huge divorce rates, a girl has to have some kind of moral guide."

The chapter continues: "...a few us us organized JANO [Jane-o-holics] as a checklist for our behavior, a corrective, like the confessionals and torture chambers of old--only hopefully more forgiving."

There are many, many references to Bridget Jones. There are many, many references to Jane Austen, her novels, and the characters in them. There are references to Sex and the City and Manolo Blahnik shoes. There is a British actor referred to as Darling Lad. (She comments on the actor's dark blue eyes, but I don't think Colin Firth's eyes are blue. She may mean Hugh Grant who, I just discovered, was in Sense and Sensibility, making that connection much more likely.)

There is just enough decent writing to keep me turning the pages.


The main character is Lizzie. Her mom is a 60's feminist. Her father was a New York movie producer. Mom was determined to raise Lizzie to be strong and independent. Dad called her "Princess." She adored her dad, but he left their family when she was about 10. Consequently, she has commitment issues, which are not helped by her mother's attitude.

Lizzie's baggage, as it turns out, is multi-generational. The spirit of her grandmother, a chorus girl/burlesque dancer from the 1930's, hovers near. And through it all is Lizzie's obsession with Jane Austen: "What Would Jane Do?" is her constant question.

The author, Rosemarie Santini, raises some important questions about the roles of sex and love. About the importance of mystery and honesty in a relationship. About courtship. About how feminism has failed the daughters of the 1960's feminists. About the importance of fantasy (for both men and women) in romance. But she doesn't really explore any of these questions in depth. Lizzie's Big Secret turns out to not be quite so earthshattering. She wants to know why her dad left her and, unless I missed it, she doesn't really get an answer.

There's also a lot of talking about sex and a couple of sex scenes, but they are, frankly, uninspiring. The language au courant vulgar, which is odd for a woman who loves British slang and Jane Austen. And who is a film critic. You'd think her vocabulary would be more creative.

Ms. Santini has written a couple of other books, including one titled The Secret Fire: How Women Live Their Sexual Fantasies. That book is listed as "non-fiction." I'm curious to see how her thesis for that book influenced this one. (I suspect it did--quite a bit.)

Sadly, this book could have been a pretty good read. It just needed more thought and another draft or two. A good editor also would have helped.

On the March Hare scale: Two bookmarks out of five.