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Nine and a Half Weeks

Elizabeth McNeill's novel Nine and a Half Weeks: A Memoir of a Love Affair is an extraordinary, smooth, terrifying work of fiction — or perhaps it really happened. The style is unadorned, the imagery verdant, the plot profoundly disturbing. When it was published in 1978 Christopher Lehmann-Haupt observed in his New York Times review [1]:

What is one to say? That the story is powerful? It is. That it is horrifying? Yes. That it is crafted and skillfully written? It is, it is: cool and ironic and contained and passionate in its restraint. And yes, it is erotic in places—not prurient, but erotic—in the way it leads us to the edge of the abyss and invites us to look where the boundaries of self are obliterated and all things become permissible. ...

Sarah Weinman in her November 2012 New Yorker essay "Who Was the Real Woman Behind 'Nine and a Half Weeks'?" [2] ranks the movie version of 912 Weeks "far inferior artistically" to the novel. She comments, "The book is just under a hundred and twenty pages, but its stripped-down presentation of sadomasochism is so vivid, the images so searing, that to draw out its tensions any longer would be more than most readers could bear." Weinman identifies the author as Ingeborg Day, who was born in Austria in 1940, went to college in the USA, married an American, had children, left her husband, and moved to New York City where she worked as an editor for Ms. magazine during the time Nine and a Half Weeks is set. At the end of the book she has a mental breakdown. Thereafter, according to Weinman, in real life Day recovers, remarries, lives a quiet life for decades, and then kills herself in early 2011.

So what about the book? Does it matter if some or all of the events in it actually occurred? Does knowing about the author make it different? How can bleak cruelty, fierce dominance, utter submission, and stark pain mix so intimately with calm descriptions of clothing, cooking, shopping? Can punishment be reward? What's the exchange rate between ecstasy and bruises? Should anyone judge anyone else? When does different become unhealthy become sick? If completely voluntary, is anything wrong? Where are the lines? Are there any lines?

^z - 2013-01-06

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