Reviewed by Laura Roberts
The sex novel is a highly underrated art form. Erotica, these days, tends to be short and sweet—or at least wham, bam, thank you ma’am. It’s like porn, in that it serves the purpose of getting the reader off swiftly. The sex novel, however, is a slightly different beast.
Originally, I picked up a copy of Donna George Storey’s Amorous Woman because I liked the concept of turning the typically male Asian fetish on its head. Instead of a man travelling to Japan to conquer geisha girls and other Asian stereotypes, the plot of the story centres on Lydia, a woman who moves to Japan in order to indulge her sexual fetishes. She romanticizes the country, wanting to fit in, despite the fact that she’s obviously a tall, blonde gaijin. Her sexual adventures cover the gamut of love hotels, old-fashioned hot springs resorts, private clubs where geisha-like waitresses cater to wealthy clientele, and even American-style prostitution abroad. Even so, there’s something much more interesting about this female character than her Yellow Feverish male counterparts (some of whom make guest appearances in the novel). Perhaps it’s merely the reversal of expectations?
Storey is a gifted storyteller (one should hope so, given her last name), and although the novel is largely about sex, it’s also about relationships and being an outsider wherever you go. It even touches on the theme of leading a double life and the perils of sex work in relatively realistic fashion, given its grounding in erotic fantasy. Though Lydia never is in any real danger as an escort, nor does she get too deeply involved in the life of the sex worker (knowing that she must return to the States certainly helps here), she allows readers to indulge the fantasy of having a rich, pampering client whom one truly cares for—and to experience the loss of that client’s cash and concern, just when one begins to believe the lies.
While Amorous Woman does rely on some Asian stereotyping (the geisha girl, the dutiful wife), as well as popular fantasies concerning johns (i.e. that all clients are pleasant, wealthy and attractive), the fact that it’s set up as a fantasy saves it from closer examination. It’s not meant to serve as a dissertation on either Japanese society or the living conditions of sex worker, so readers will likely be able to overlook the colonial undertones and focus on the sex. After all, the titular amorous woman’s goal is to sexually conquer Japan, so if you’re offended by the concept, the book isn’t for you.
All in all, the book is quite readable and sexy, and Storey does a good job both of advancing the plot and keeping the reader aroused. Like any good erotic tale, this one keeps the reader up late in horny frustration, wondering what will happen next. It seems mostly designed to appeal to a straight female audience, though there are a few scenes between women that might intrigue a queer audience. Recommended for anyone looking to indulge themselves with a few hours of solo playtime in between the sheets.