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Friday, August 17, 2007

Nikki Gemmeli's The Bride Stripped Bare

Nikki Gemmelli. The Bride Stripped Bare.
Harper-Perennial
2003
ISBN-10: 0060591889
ISBN-13:

A gem, for any of you folks who haven't seen it on the Target shelves yet: Nikki Gemell's The Bride Stripped Bare.

Written in Lessons instead of chapters, the novel begins with, "Your husband doesn't know you're writing this. It's quite easy to write it under his nose. Just as easy, perhaps, as sleeping with other people. But no one will ever know who you are, or what you've done, for you've always been seen as the good wife." From there, Gemmell takes us on a journey through a woman's erotic and frightening self-discovery. The narrator moves from boring housewife to experimental secret-keeper upon the discovery of an Elizabethan manuscript that describes women's secret desires. Intrigued that another woman so far removed had felt the same urges and longings, the narrator careens through testing the limits of marriage, dragging the reader through the rabbit hole with her into a world where a bored, naive housewife quickly learns to weave lies and deceit to manipulate those around her.

Fans of poetry, you're in luck - the rich imagery and gorgeous use of language melts on your mental tongue as you read, and though many of the sentences are short, they're rich - I have to admit a tendency to blow through books and then have to go back to read for digestion. This novel, however, had me gasping with exhaustion at the end of every few chapters - it's gut wrenching, in a subversive, disquieting way. The second person voice "you" this, "you" that - the narrative voice intimately involves the reader, turns the reader into a shadowy accomplice during the length of the book. Does each of us have the capacity to blur the boundaries between fantasy and reality, and are we willing to pay the price that comes with it?

The way Gemmell captures what a woman thinks when she's got the semi-ideal life but dark yearnings makes this one a must-read for anyone interested in the workings of the mind of a woman. Note that the Amazon reviews I've seen so far have hated the book - but I do believe they came from the wrong perspective. I don't believe it is intended as a heartbreaking take of a good wife; the sex scenes were not meant to throw the book into the 'erotica' cache of reading, and it is not intended to be a novel addressing what EVERY woman wants, desires, and is willing to do - it's more about the boundaries one woman chooses to cross, and what it does to her as a person. Whether you like or dislike the narrator is almost immaterial - the journey is the thing.

Caveat - sexually explicit, unapologetically erotic, and searing honesty characterize Gemmell's work in this one. While many women will report that they have had none of the darker wanderings of the mind that characterize the novel, from conversations with close friends and my own experiences, enough of us have to make this one a very worthwhile read. Highly recommended with maximum starrage - if you're not afraid to read a novel with a provocative cover that only hints at the turmoil and emotionally disturning text, this one is a must-read. A must re-read. A must-share-with-my-best-friend-and-a-few-men-I-know read.

Gemmell is now on my list, and I'll have to go grab her other work - The Bride Stripped Bare is beyond fantastic - it's disturbingly real. Let me know what you think of it!

3 comments:

~a~ said...

So, I'm going to have to read this, aren't I?

Guardienne of the Tomes said...

Ooh, please do. Then we can talk it over. With wine. Mmm, wine.

Angelica Joy said...

Wonderful review on The Bride Stripped Bare. I've just completed reading this book and loved it! Never have read anything like it and quite enjoyed it.