Monday, June 11, 2012

Readalong Week 1: My Hundred Lovers by Susan Johnson

Over the next few weeks I am participating in a readalong of My Hundred Lovers by Australian author Susan Johnson. The readalong is hosted by Bree from All the Books I Can Read. My first order of business is to apologise to Bree for being so late with my post, but I have been busy with all sorts of other bookish goodness! This week's post covers pages 1-88 and I have to warn....


If you look at the title of this book you do have possibly have a fair idea of what to expect from this book, and the book blurb would also reiterate that:

A woman, on the eve of her fiftieth birthday, reflects on one hundred moments from a lifetime's sensual adventures. After the love, hatred and despair are done with, the great and trivial acts of her bodily life reveal an imperfect, yet whole self. By turns humorous, sharp, haunting and wise, this is an original and exhilarating novel from one of Australia's premier writers.

Lyrical and exquisite, My Hundred Lovers captures the sheer wonder of life, desire and love.

It is at times shocking, at other times funny, but it is also surprising. I was expecting this to be an exposition of our main character Deborah's sex life and it is indeed that, but it is also more than that with observations about many sensory adventures including passages about food, observations about aging, about unhappy childhoods, about depression and unhealthy relationships and so much more.

The writing is often a treat for the senses. There is a section that I will be sharing later in the week that just had me wishing that I had a trip to Paris planned sooner rather than later. Then again, it doesn't take that much to get me to that point really.

The structure of the novel is interesting. The chapters are for the most part short and jump around from topic to topic, and with the narrative jumping forwards and backwards in time and from first person narrative to third person. It makes the reader work more than you would have to with a straight narrative but I think that the short chapters make that easier than it would if you had more substantial chapters.

Bree gave us some suggestion points to discuss and so I thought I would address those

How do you feel about Deborah? Do you like her? Can you relate to her? Did you feel sympathy for her? If so, why and if not, why?

At this stage I am not sure that we are meant to really like Deborah. So far, we have been given glimpses of the events in her life that coloured her impressions of herself and how she came to be the woman that she is now, but I am not convinced that we have seen too much of the real Deborah just yet. It will be very interesting to see how she treats many of the milestone moments in life in the rest of the book. For example, she just kind of glossed over the fact that she has at least one child which for most mothers would be a pretty major event!

I do think it is very telling though that for much of this section Deborah is referred to as 'the girl' rather than by her name, almost as if the fact that she is a girl is the complete definition of her as an entity and that the Deborah-ness of the entity is an after thought. This idea of 'the girl' also manages to keep the reader at arm's length for quite a bit of this opening of the book so it will be interested to see if this technique continues.

I do relate to Deborah though in particular in relation to her relationship with her family. Having grown up in a difficult family relationship I can see why she made many of the choices she made, particularly when it comes to sex and to the relationships that she chose to pursue. The search for love can be very problematic if you never learnt how to do that properly within the family environment, and to be honest, I feel that is very much reflected in my own life right now.

She is much more overtly sexual, particularly from a very young age and I must admit that in some ways I found that quite confronting because I don't remember being that way as a young girl myself, although I would have classified my teenage activity as relatively normal - at least I think so.

Do you think that her upbringing and her parents’ fractured relationship sent Deborah on a path of looking for acceptance and love, often in the most unlikely and unfortunate places? Does she use sex as a way to find or feel love?

Without any question of doubt. In my experience, there are two ways that people who have had traumatic childhood experiences will react to those events when it comes to their sexualness (if there is such a word. I didn't want to use sexuality in case it indicated sexual orientation whereas I am talking more about activity). One is that they will be very restrictive in relation to their relationships and the opposite can also be true where  the person concerned will look for 'love' wherever they can find it and will easily accept sex as a substitute for love.

Then again, some people are just more adventurous than others, and it could well be dependent of which activities they have been introduced into over the years. Deborah could well just be one of the more  naturally adventurous, and perhaps this is also reflected in other aspects of her life including the travel she has done for example.

As an aside, it seems that often these readalong books are trigger's for me to think about my past a lot. It happened with Foal's Bread which was very uncomfortable for me and is happening again with this book!

It turns out I had quite a lot to say about this section. We will see what happens in the next section!


  1. This book sounds really interesting! I skipped over your review because I didn't want any spoilers, but I read the synopsis and can't wait to read it!

  2. Lucky I know what kept you so busy over the weekend! ;-) Don't worry you still came in with plenty of time. Seems a lot of people are relating to her in some ways, some are liking her and some aren't, but everyone seems to agree that she very overtly sexual. Especially at a young age, sexualising things that really aren't very sexual, or shouldn't be very sexual!

  3. I enjoyed reading your thoughts Marg, thanks for sharing them.