Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Review: Seven Kisses by Giselle Renarde

Seven Kisses by Giselle Renarde

Introverted, order-loving Gabrielle goes for a walk one afternoon, planning to explore a wooded parkland in her home town. Instead of the forest path shown on her map, she encounters a gated driveway that leads to a magnificent Victorian mansion. An unprepossessing sign identifies the property as Loindici Rehabilitation Centre.

As far as the Internet is concerned, the place doesn’t exist, but as Gabby stands marveling at its forbidding glory, her life shifts. A limousine enters the vast grounds. A teen-aged girl in provocative attire emerges. Rushing to Gabrielle, she blurts out “You’re Suzanne!”, then flees. And before Gabrielle realizes what’s going on, several burly figures in scrubs and surgical masks arrive to take “Suzanne” to the rehabilitation centre. At first Gabby protests, but some imp of the perverse – a mixture of curiosity and fatalism – motivates her to assume the patient Suzanne’s identity and agree to undergo Madame deVilleneuve’s “therapies”.

Then she descends into hell. Suzanne is apparently a nymphomaniac and “chronic masturbator”. The Madame’s therapy involves drugs, restraints, beatings, humiliation, sensory deprivation and violent sexual penetration by a Beast – an ominously silent creature whom Madame de Villeneuve explains is the externalization of Suzanne’s own wild and untamed sexual cravings.

This isn’t a question of playing games or acting roles. The pain Gabrielle endures is real and lasting. After several days of therapy her flesh is bruised and torn. She is unable to walk. Yet despite the terrible indignities inflicted upon her, Gabrielle somehow craves these experiences – not with her mind, which turns away appalled and disgusted, but with her traitorous body.

The delicious and chilling aspect of this situation is that the whole scenario is consensual – at least in a formal sense. Gabrielle has freely chosen to enter the Madame’s purgatory. Her reasons seem trivial, but Ms. Renarde makes it clear that in some sense, the Madame is right. Though Gabrielle’s behavior has never been anything other than exemplary, she shares the real Suzanne’s unlimited sexual needs. She has managed to hide this truth from herself all her life – until she entered Loindici Manor.

Madame de Villeneuve furrowed her brow. “My dear, we do not commit patients against their will. You are a legal adult and, as such, your parents’ signatures are not sufficient to gain entry to my program.” She pulled a document from her drawer. How odd—the papers were put together not with a staple but with a brass tack. “It is up to you to commit yourself to my program, Suzanne.”

Oh.” Could Gabrielle really go through with this? Could she really pretend she was someone else, some rich nymphomaniac? She hadn’t acted a part since the Grade 8 Christmas play, and she wasn’t very good in that.

Handing Gabrielle the wooden calligraphy pen, Madame said, “I must warn you: my therapy is intensive but it yields results. When we begin, you will more than likely wish to return home to a world of comforts. But this, I will not allow. Once you sign my document, you are committed to my care. You do as I instruct. You will not leave until I tell you to go. If this is understood, then sign your name at the bottom of the page.”

The contract, or whatever it was, hadn’t been typed on a computer. The whole thing had been written in Madame’s dense calligraphy hand. Gabrielle couldn’t read a word of it, yet all she could think to ask was, “My parents are paying for this, right?”

Madame nodded solemnly, seeming offended by the mention of money. “Your stay has been paid in advance.”

This place was basically a five-star resort masquerading as a rehab clinic. What was the sense in letting the booking go to waste while the real Suzanne camped out in Loindici Woods, or boarded a plane out of the country, or whatever she was doing right now?

Once you sign that page, Suzanne, you are mine to treat. You give up your right to say no. Are you prepared to do that, young lady?”

As the therapy proceeds, Gabrielle’s reality begins to dissolve into dark fantasy. Liveried monkeys act as the Madame’s servants. Walls waver and melt into mist. The Beast who so expertly batters her becomes her lover. Madame reveals her own prurient interests in the hapless patient, in an almost unbearably kinky interlude in the mansion’s stables. The Beast helps her to escape. Yet the first thing Gabrielle does when she’s out of the Madame’s clutches is to race back in order to save her beloved Beast from de Villeneuve’s inveterate cruelty.

Seven Kisses offers a totally original mix of heart-catching romance, unbridled kink and wondrous magic. Sometimes the meld is a bit awkward, but overall it works. Occasionally the book reaches the heights of great fantasy. I particularly loved the scene in which Gabrielle leads the wounded Beast through the crumbling wreckage of the manor, as the Madame’s sorcery unravels.

A warning, though: this is not a book for the squeamish or faint of heart. Despite Gabrielle’s having committed herself by signing the Madame’s illegible contract, much of what occurs in this book would be considered non-consensual. Just because Gabrielle enjoys some aspects does not erase the fact that she’s being raped.

If you’re interested in the interaction between desire and will, however – if, like me, you think you were Victorian in a previous life – if you believe in magic - if you’ve ever fantasized about making love to your own Beast – I highly recommend Seven Kisses.

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