In the run-up to Christmas I was searching for a present for a friend of mine. I knew he was a fan of Alan Moore, as am I; both Watchmen and V for Vendetta are excellent political commentaries. So when browsing a graphic novel store I saw two options of Alan Moore that I knew he did not own: “From Hell” and “Lost Girls”.
I asked the shop assistant which he’d recommend. I was familiar with “From Hell”, but not “Lost Girls”.
“Well, it depends upon what your friend is into,” the assistant remarked. “Does he enjoy violence or sex?”
A good question indeed! I am fairly certain my friend enjoys both (though I hope, not at the same time), but thought it best to play it safe. Violence is an acquired taste. Everyone enjoys smut.
So I bought him the notorious graphic novel dubbed by its own author as “pornography”. Much later, after he’d finished the book, he told me of its rather shocking qualities and I was intrigued. As a fan of anything that pushes boundaries (such as infamous video nasties, or books such as Naked Lunch) I was keen to read it. My friend kindly lent it to me.
That was several days ago and I have now finished Lost Girls. It is the sort of book I would like to own and put on the living room table. It’s perfect for guests to flick though. My girlfriend browsed through some pages and declared it pornography, to which I found myself suddenly leaping to the books defence. True, I often defend the concept of porn, but I felt that somehow this book was more than simple titillation. So I decided to compare it to a series of books she read recently: the Twilight Saga.
Twilight's Edward Cullen
The Twilight books, written by Stephenie Meyer, are set in the United States and revolve around an awkward teenage girl called Isabella Swan who falls in love with a vampire. The book became an instant hit and the film even more so. We are currently in the grip of Twilight mania, sandwiched between the release of the second and third film.
So why compare Lost Girls with this? One is pornography, the other is literature, surely?
Well, to backup this statement, lets examine the facts. Lost Girls is about three women who meet in a hotel in Austria during the run-up to the First World War. There they share tales of their sexual awakenings and experimentations. The book contains graphic scenes of heterosexual and homosexual copulation, orgies, bestiality, incest, role-reversals and pretty much anything else you can think of.
Twilight, on the other hand, is a tale of two youngsters (one is actually about a hundred years old, but he appears young enough to go to high school) who fall in love, but fate and difficulties keep pulling them apart. Quite unlike Lost Girls there is next to no sex in Twilight, although there is a lot of social foreplay.
Twilight can be found in almost every book shop in the country. You will be hard pressed to find Lost Girls anywhere.
Now here comes the crux of my argument: I think it should be the other way round.
Stephenie Meyer is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; she does not smoke or drink and we can only assume that her views on sex are on the conservative side. Twilight has gone down so well in the states because the relationship depicted within is one of abstinence. The lead characters only sleep together once they are married. Until then the books are awash with frustration and lonely longing. Targeting teenage girls, the books present sex as something destructive that should be avoided. At an age of sexual insecurity this reinforces their fears and makes them feel safe.
Lost Girls, on the other hand, has no such agenda. It is an exploration of sexuality, not a dogma telling the reader what is good and what is bad. The characters within the book each have different desires and are willing to explore them, all the while keeping their right to choose their own path.
While the book appears pornographic, it is in fact full of empowering and healthy scenes. One such moment is the realisation by a character that although she fantasises about being raped, it does not mean she desires the actual act, or gives any right to a perpetrator to carry out the act. Does Stephenie Meyer tackle such deep and complex issues?
The Twilight books have taught a whole generation that abstinence and sexual frustration is something to be sought after. Ironically if that very generation had instead read Lost Girls, they might have learnt some truths about sexuality, or at least opened their eyes to the importance of understanding their own. Sexual repression is a dangerous thing, perhaps if more literature was pornographic the world would be a healthier place.