Lucinda Elliot

Pandora Witzmann’s ‘A Wayward Game’: Breaking Down the Artificial Barriers Between Popular and Literary Fiction

‘I23523998I pull down my corset so that my breasts are exposed, and pushed up by the underwiring. I look at them in the mirror, at the round white globes of flesh surmounted by rosy nipples. They skim the hair on his chest as I move my body closer to his…We kiss: a long, deep, needy kiss. I pull away, feeling a little breathless, and sit down on the edge of the chaise longue, parting my legs.
“Kneel,” I say.’

I loved the imaginative depiction of the sex play between the male and female leads in this story. All sorts of erotic SM scenarios are explored, for the Domina Katherine is highly inventive.

This novel is really exceptional; it actually extends the borders between genre and literary fiction; and that’s no small achievement, particularly regarding erotica.

It was a real delight to read a story with such writing. This also a mystery, so it’s quite cross genre – and it’s all told with brilliant prose and sensitive writing as impressive as anything you’ll find in ‘straight’ literary fiction.

These characters are sympathetic and human, and given that the male lead is a policeman, and I don’t exactly have a glowing view of law upholders generally, this was another indication to me of just how good the writing is.

Quite apart from its Genre Bending, this novel is also original in all sorts of unexpected ways. For instance, here one character is talking to the other: –

‘“You don’t always have to be so cool, you know. Everyone’s allowed a few moments of vulnerability.”
“I can’t afford them.”
“You can.”’

The one who’s cut off so much from showing human weakness is the female lead. A man who asks a woman to open up emotionally, because her previous experiences have left her wishing to appear detached and invulnerable: how often do we come across that in a story? Of course, we come across it repeatedly with the male lead; in fact, fixing the inside of an emotionally challenged man’s head is the only area of mending at which females are conceded to be skilled; I found this role reversal so refreshing.

For adopting a careless, dominant pose is true not only of Katherine’s role in this ‘Wayward Game , of the title, of which the couple play various versions, perceived and otherwise, but of her life in general; Katherine is a woman who in reality has been hurt and shocked by how brutal life can be; disappointed in her personal life and her career, she takes refuge behind an appearance of detached invulnerability.

Katherine’s emotional life is in fact bound up (no pun intended!) with the disappearance of Diane Meath-Jones eight years since, and she devotes a great deal of energy to trying to find new evidence to re-open the police investigation; she suspects the woman’s old lover of murdering her. As an ambitious young journalist, she began the campaign and it threw a shadow over her career prospects; now she runs a website devoted to this case, works as a free lance journalist, and is cut off from her emotions.

It is only when she transforms herself into her  Domina persona that she feels truly alive,and powerful.

And, writing of refreshing changes – guess what – the male lead actually dares to have a body that falls short of the ideal, and that IS unusual in erotica: –

When he sees himself naked in the mirror, he once told me, he sees only a pale and unprepossessing man with body hair and a slight paunch: a sight vastly removed from the toned, buff bodies held out as the masculine ideal in magazines and on TV programmes.’

The writing is often so evocative and sensitive that I was startled, finding my own thoughts and feelings exactly captured in of all places, a mystery story with a strong erotic element. For instance: –

‘I might be ten years old again, lying in my narrow bed in my parents’ house, listening to the rain beating at the window and the wind screaming down the chimney and knowing that I am safe.’

There a many other examples, but I’m leaving the reader to discover them for herself.

The mystery element is absorbing, too.

My only complaint about this story is that I’d have liked to know a bit more about how the incongruous coupling of the upholder of law and order and the establishment- challenging journalist came about: how did they meet? I also wanted to know more about with how many lovers Katherine had played this game, and how she, once the shyest of young girls, had been drawn into it originally.

However, it may be that the writer intends to supply these details in another story about this couple, and my wanting to know these things is after all, an indication of how lifelike I found the characters; someone once said to me that if you find yourself thinking about an author’s characters as if they were real people with a history after you’ve finished the book, then that shows that they were brilliantly realized.

Altogether, a excellent read. I’m hoping to enjoy more from Pandora Witzmann in the future.

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