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**Please note, there is a small amount of content within this review that may be offensive to some readers - I felt it was necessary to include this content in order to accurately review this book, apologies if it offends anybody.
Ever since 50 Shades of Grey became a bestseller, erotic fiction (particularly when it comes to BDSM and S&M lifestyle) has had something of a revival - it's become something you'll see displayed on supermarket shelves, you'll see people reading it on the bus, and you'll even hear people talking about it in the break work at work. You'll even hear people telling tales of their own tentative steps into the world of Kink.
The trouble with these books however, is that they ARE fiction, typically involving a screwed up but incredibly rich and handsome man, and a naive, possibly screwed up too woman. They never show two healthy, mentally stable consenting adults exploring each others bodies and kinks in a safe and consenting manner without all the drama of someone wanted to kidnap somebody else, or someone hating their parents.
Which is why 'The Diary of a Submissive' is so refreshing. First of all, it's non fiction, so it tends to take a little more time outlining the distinction between play sessions and they day to day events of a relationship. But also, it's written by a woman who describes herself as a smart, successful feminist who happens to enjoy relinquishing control every now and again. Not someone screwed up by her childhood at all - in fact, she spends the first part of the book talking about her happy home life - her parents, still together after at least 30 years of marriage, her supportive brother, and her ability to fit in with almost any social group at school.
She also mentions her first inklings that her tastes ran a little darker than the perceived societal norm - lying in her bed at night, masturbating as she placed herself in the position of a helpless Maid Marion, restrained and under the control of Guy of Gisbourne. She speaks of her conflicting emotions regarding Maid Marion, her contempt at her not being able to free herself and relying on a man to do the freeing, but also her respect for Marions calm composure.
She talks of her first, accidental experience with non-vanilla sex,a playful session of hairbrush spanking with a college boyfriend, and the journey from there to find, explore, and test her limits with dominant men, both in the context of consensual play partners, and within the confines of a loving relationship, with the book taking us right up the current day.
I really enjoyed reading this book. The first thing that gripped me was actually the language used - from reading, it's clear that the author is British - none of this fannying (pardon the pun) around with terms like buttocks,quim, or tumescent manhood. Nope, it's arse, cunt, cock and balls all the way, and although a small part of me winces at the use of the C word, I appreciate the straightforward, unflowery language.
I also very much appreciated the 'normality' of Sophie - a busy working woman holding down a busy, stressful, low-paying but ultimately fulfilling job, trying to pay the heating bill, have a social life, and have a sex life, at the same time trying to keep that balance between being in control, and surrendering it to another. She comes across as someone who is only submissive in the bedroom, and yet you get the very real sense that despite being a submissive, it is actually Sophie, and not her Dominant, who is in charge in any play scene. She can, after all, utter a safe word and end a scene at any time, but although we frequently see her sobbing in pain, frustration, and humiliation, we also see her at the same moment refusing to use her safeword, refusing to show that she can't take what is being dished out, and determined to push her own boundaries to the very limits.
We see the level of trust she has in her dominants, her certainty that she'll be rewarded for her endurance with powerful orgasms, and then cuddled, comforted, and given a cup of tea.
The overall vibe I get from the book is a joy that someone is writing about BDSM in a sensible, un-flowery, very honest way. Yes, there certainly are a number of very erotically charged scenes in the book, but there are also some that would shock many readers. Her descriptions or her various relationships are honest and open, and I love the fact that she had a long term play-partner who wasn't a boyfriend - something very common in the kink scene. She talks about the kind of messages a beginning submissive might receive on BDSM social networking sites in a way that had me nodding my head in agreement (although I'm vanilla, I do maintain a profile on a couple of kink websites as I have a slightly unusual relationship structure) having received several such messages myself.
Most impressively though, she also gives us a very good insight into the worries of her dominant, who, as Sophie pushes her own limits further and further, has issues with the fine line between consenting play and non consenting abuse, and begins to worry that his enjoyment of playing with Sophie indicates something darker within his own psyche.
So far, I've been very fulsome with my praise for this book, so are there any downsides? Absolutely! I found many of the play scenes incredibly violent and brutal, and although the author made very clear that the choices, and to some extent the control were hers, I did have a lot of trouble squaring in my mind how being beaten on the clitoris with a wooden spoon could lead someone to orgasm. Some of the scenes, particularly the opening scene of the book, played out in public, made me deeply uncomfortable and were difficult to read, and there were times when I needed to put the book down, step away, and go and do something to take my mind off it for a bit.
It's also worth bearing in mind that this is only one persons account of their own experiences. There is a popular saying in the kink community - Your kink is not my kink, but that's O.K , and that statement can apply to domination and submission as much as anything else. There are many different kinds of D/s scene - some play dynamics eschew violence altogether, some use mental stimuli and sensory deprivation (such as blindfolds) to imply a threat where no real danger is present. There are some Doms who would get off on seeing someone cry, and there may be just as many who would never willingly cause that to happen. And of course, there are scenarios where the whole D/s play dynamic goes terribly wrong, and crosses that line between consensual play and real abuse. The book, being based only on one persons personal experience, can't possibly cover every scenario, and for this reason, I do intend to see if I can find more non-fiction writing within the genre, as I'm particularly interested in reading a Dominants writings on the subject.
Diary of a Submissive is available in kindle edition for £1.99 or paperback from £3.86, and is certainly worth the money. She has also written a second work, 'No ordinary love story' which I'm planning to work my way through at some point.
Overall , I found this book enthralling - I found myself gripped and drawn in to the scenes, and found that it often challenged my way of thinking. I found myself nodding at Sophie's words time and again as they echoed the words of Submissive friends, but most of all I enjoyed the honesty and integrity of the book, and award it 4 stars.