It’s always fascinating when an author writes about wildly different subjects from book to book. The last novel by Monique Roffey I read was “House of Ashes” which was a devastatingly intense and complex account of a coup which takes place on a fictional Caribbean island. Her new novel “The Tryst” focuses on a short, all-consuming affair between a married couple and a mysterious woman. The result is a dynamic look at the dangerously hazy borderline between the erotic imagination and real-life sexual exploits. In particular, it prompts us to wonder about the role sexual fantasy plays in long-term relationships. Should such impulses be voiced or acted upon? If so, will our partner be repulsed, offended, intrigued or titillated? Or, if these impulses are kept private or repressed what are the consequences? It’s a tricky and delicate subject matter as many couples privately struggle with issues of sex. Roffey offers fascinating insights with this outrageously imaginative tale of untamed lust and a fantasy that quickly turns into a nightmare.

Bill and Jane have been together many years and fallen into familiar routines. Although both of them have healthy sexual appetites, passion has never been an element of their marriage. Jane harbors sexual fantasies about random men while Bill is left perpetually pining for his wife who won’t engage with him in the bedroom. Jane tragically feels that "I was trapped inside a monogamous world, inside my marriage, and inside myself." When they are out drinking one evening they encounter Lilah, a strange woman of small stature who possesses great allure and a boisterous attitude. Soon all three of them are consumed with sexual desire and they embark on an escapade, but each believes they are in full control of the situation. The narrative switches between each character’s perspective showing how each of them frequently misinterprets the motives and responses of the others. This makes a really interesting portrait of a sexual encounter where so much is based on signals which can be horrendously misinterpreted. It also poignantly shows how the outcome of realizing sexual fantasies is far different from how we imagined. Lilah is not what she seems and the plot buzzes with scenes which are rampantly sensual and fantastical. The riotous and explicit encounter between these three unhinges them and radically transforms them all forever.

Several years ago I read George Bataille’s influential and wickedly perverse bonk-fest “Story of the Eye” for the first time. It left me with a lot of mixed feelings. Roffey’s characters are just as willfully perverse as Bataille’s – especially Lilah who brags "An old Jesuit priest taught me how to touch cock." It’s interesting how Roffey gives an alternative view of a couple exploring their untamed desires within a much more domestic setting. Also, as Bataille uses a lot of egg imagery, so does Roffey invoke this potent symbol where Jane traditionally purchases a decorated egg for her husband as an ironic gift. She muses: "I wasn't sure if I didn't want children, or didn't want children with Bill. Each egg I gave Bill made me question this more. I saw the eggs as potent reminders of this failure on my part." Lilah takes these gifts and uses them in a suitably depraved way. Where Bataille’s book felt at times unrelentingly debauched without any specific purpose, Roffey is much more focused in her depiction of whether a marriage can survive a full-scale journey into the uncharted landscape of the sexual imagination. This book is also very much an entertaining story about demonic elemental forces wreaking havoc in our humdrum reality.

I found it really moving how Roffey shows her characters’ tentative relationship with their sexual fantasies. People so often find it difficult to know how to manage desire. In particular, Jane is frequently overwhelmed and consumed by her sexual fantasies but seems so hesitant about acting upon them or admitting them to her husband. In one section when relating her unconscious desires she reflects that "The dreams happened of their own accord, tumbling out on the backs of other dreams. I would wake in another man's arms, my husband inches from me, his body big and warm." That sense of having another person so physically nearby, but psychologically so far away is touching and powerfully realized. Sex is difficult. Always. “The Tryst” robustly embraces the challenge of looking at it in all its complexities. It’s also a novel with a surprisingly hopeful message – at least, it’s hopeful for everyone except for the couple’s unfortunate tomcat named Choo Choo.

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AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesMonique Roffey
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Dodo Ink is an exciting new independent press that’s publishing daring fiction which doesn’t fit into the catalogues of more mainstream publishers. I was delighted to contribute to their Kickstarter campaign last year because I know the people behind it are committed and serious readers who want to bring out vibrant and challenging new literature. So I’m thrilled to read their first publication “Dodge and Burn” by Seraphina Madsen which is simultaneously a fable about two sisters Eugenie and Camille who live under the control of a sadistic stepfather doctor, a mystery about a lost heiress, a psychedelic road trip about two lovers on the run from gangsters/the law and a mystical meditation on space/time/being. It’s energetic, feverish writing takes you on a spectacularly wild journey.

The novel begins with Eugenie’s bizarre account about her mother’s death when a group of bees fiercely attack her. She and her sister are subsequently taken to her mother’s grand house in Maine where their sadistic guardian Dr Vargas subjects them to torturous experiments including fixing electric collars around their necks and making them kill and eat their pet rabbits. Tantalizingly the house contains a number of libraries whose books the sisters eagerly devour but there is one library which is forbidden to them. The sisters are made to stay in different rooms, but read to each other through a ventilation shaft. They engage each other with literature as varied as William S Burroughs, Henry James and Nabokov as well as a number of mystical and scientific writings. They formulate systems of drawing upon ritualistic behaviour to gather spiritual strength and plot to escape from their deranged guardian/captor.

When the sisters become unexpectedly separated, Eugenie spends her life trying to locate Camille and embarks on a path towards a kind of enlightenment or unveiling of the hidden deities which secretly control our reality. She’s an almost supernaturally strong individual who seems impervious to poisoning or overdosing from the phenomenal amount of drugs she consumes. She’s highly intelligent, well-read, an expert poker player and gymnast. Her partner in crime is Benoît, a man she marries and nicknames Venus Acid Boy (after he hilariously mishears the Bjork song Venus as a Boy). They gamble in Vegas and win so dramatically that casino thugs set upon them. Their adventure takes them across the country having encounters with candy ravers who subsist off from a diet of Pez and neighbours who grow a substantial amount of marijuana. Eugenie’s intense drug-fuelled and sexual experiences take her to other planes of consciousness which might or might not be real: “For all I knew I was my own hallucination.” All the while she’s intent on reuniting with her lost sister.

Cave of Altamira

Cave of Altamira

There is another layer to the story where Eugenie herself is missing and her estranged father who is an Antarctic explorer has offered a substantial reward for her recovery. Her notebooks are discovered in an ancient cavern in Spain. Here are Paleolithic cave paintings which inspired the surreal artist Miró. The quest to discover what happened to both her and her sister Camille are layered into this larger frame. It creates a fascinating array of stories which feed into each other and straddle different periods of time and various locations. This style reminded me somewhat of Lina Wolff’s wildly creative novel “Bret Easton Ellis and The Other Dogs” published earlier this year. Similarly, in “Dodge and Burn” episodic adventures are related with great fervour. An intensity of experience and thought dominates over traditional narrative flow. This left me dazzled and awe-struck, but at the same time I wished for the story to slow down at some points to linger and expand parts such as the bizarre perversity of Dr Vargas’ child-rearing methods and the sisters’ joint strategies for surviving them.

Seraphina Madsen is a highly intriguing new author whose writing encompasses both outrageously fantastic and movingly realistic modes of narrative. Eugenie’s intensity of experience is vividly rendered as is her emotional quest to reunite with her lost sister. It’s made all the more meaningful if you read Madsen’s process behind writing this book and her personal experiences here. This novel gives a highly amplified version of the painful injustices of childhood and our quest for deeper meaning in life. It’s a bold and imaginative debut from this new author and promising new press.

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AuthorEric Karl Anderson

We need original, daring fiction. A lot of great books come out of bigger publishers, but there are experimental/challenging voices which just don’t fit into the mainstream. Some of the most exciting fiction I read is published by smaller, independent presses like Galley Beggar, Pushkin, And Other Stories or Peirene Press. I’m excited to hear that a new press is soon opening called Dodo Ink. It has a fantastic team of enthusiastic readers behind it. They’ve already discovered some powerful manuscripts to launch as their first titles. I know because I’ve read extracts from these on their website. They need support in getting this press launched. I really believe in it and have made my pledge. I hope you will as well by clicking on this link and reading about how passionate they are: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1528815432/the-grand-dodo-ink-kickstarter

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AuthorEric Karl Anderson