Or, read this teaser description first, (it's from the book's back cover / jacket flap) and get a taste:
Rediscover the notorious novel of dark obsession that introduced the world to erotic fiction.
How far will a woman go to express her love? In this exquisite and taboo novel of passion and desire, the answer emerges through a daring exploration of the deepest bonds of sensual domination. “O” is a beautiful Parisian fashion photographer, determined to understand and prove her consuming devotion to her lover, René, through complete submission to his every whim, his every desire.
It is a journey of forbidden, dangerous choices that sweeps her through the secret gardens of the sexual underground. From the inner sanctum of a private club where willing women are schooled in the art of subjugation to the excruciating embraces of René’s friend Sir Stephen, O tests the outermost limits of pleasure. For as O discovers, true freedom lies in her pure and complete willingness to do anything for love.
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I have always wondered why stories so often touted as great romances end tragically. Story of O is no exception. Considered a classic work of erotic literature, it seeks not to arouse the reader, but to caution against desire, a divergence of purpose that perfectly reflects the splintering of body and mind experienced by O.
A story has a beginning, middle, and end. Yet O’s narrative is the tale of an ending. It is with helpless fascination that we watch O be violated and humiliated to please her lover. The anonymous narrator is detached from the proceedings, relating events and reactions with broad strokes and selective insight. This aloofness does not spare the reader. Instead, it serves as a naked light bulb in the room, casting an unforgiving glare on O’s vulnerable flesh.
In this way we take the journey from individual to object with O. It is a difficult and troubling road to travel. We are warned at the beginning. “If she begins to like it…get past the pleasure stage. Until you reach the stage of tears.”
And flow they do. O surrenders totally to the men who own her and use her. As proxy to Sir Stephen and René, she is free to do all that she cannot grant herself permission to do alone.
By divorcing her body and will, O finds peace. As an ephemeral supplicant, seen only when her lover wishes to look at her and invisible when he does not, she finds purpose. A slave for innumerable men to penetrate at will without regard for her pleasure, O feels “ennobled” by her submission to the primal desires of others. The twisted spiral of sensual pain is her prison and her pride, triggering a sexual and spiritual transformation through shockingly intense sexual discipline, rather than abstinence and chastity. It is one reason why a novel overflowing with sex enthralls rather than titillates. Is O a victim or a martyr? In any case, she is willing and oftentimes eager.
In the end, I see Story of O as a fable. Be careful what you wish for. René desires a woman who will withhold nothing from him, yet he falls truly in love with Jacqueline, a selfish lover who withholds everything. Sir Stephen desires the perfect submissive, yet after branding and shackling O as his personal property, he finds that O is not the one. And O, who desires to be desired and to perfectly satisfy her lovers’ every dark need, finds herself without a lover at all. She becomes a common vessel without anything meaningful to fill it, an object to be used but not treasured.
We are left asking the question: Did O sacrifice herself for love, or did love make a sacrifice of O?