The Ages of Lulu by Almudena Grandes
Seven Stories Press, 2005
First published in the U.S. in 1995 by Barney Rossett's infamous Grove Press, The Ages of Lulu is a controversial pseudo-memoir of a woman's sexual odyssey from childhood to maturity. When it was released, the book was been widely condemned as exploitative and shallow. Publisher's Weekly wrote: “this luridly inventive first novel strives to shock but instead proves that a woman's quasi-pornographic erotic fiction can be as mechanical, repetitive, graphic and cerebral as men's contribution to the genre.”
I couldn't disagree more. When I read the book a few years ago. I found it to be an intelligent and arousing chronicle of the obsessive relationship between a woman and the man who is her brother's friend, her ravisher, her husband, and ultimately, the master who keeps her sane.
Lulu is fifteen when the story begins, a Catholic schoolgirl hopelessly in love with her brother's best mate Pablo. Pablo is twelve years her senior. Lulu is precocious – she masturbates with her brother's recorder on a dare – but full of the confusions and misconceptions of any teen. When Pablo takes her virginity on the floor of his mother's atelier, the experience is not exactly pleasurable, but it is enough to bind her to him for life. He encourages her sexual experimentation, and she is eager to obey his suggestions.
When Pablo returns from a jail term for political crimes (the novel is set in Spain under Franco), he and Lulu embark on an unconventional marriage in which he seeks out other women and she finds her pleasure in the company of gay men and transvestites, sometimes with Pablo's participation and sometimes not. Their escapades together and apart become increasingly extreme and perverse. Finally, Pablo tricks her into participating in a ménage that includes her own brother. Disgusted and disturbed by Pablo's duplicity, she leaves him and goes off on her own, but she cannot escape his influence. As she plunges deeper into an underworld of sadomasochistic excess, she tells herself that she is following her own desires, but in truth she is a rudderless outcast, seeking satisfaction that only his love and attention can provide.
The Ages of Lulu does involve a wide variety of sexual situations and activities. However, what I found most erotic about the book was the interplay between Pablo and Lulu, the way he educates her and urges her to act out her fantasies – and his. Their relationship is far from healthy, based as it is on a love that borders on obsession. Arrogant and self-involved, Pablo views Lulu as his creation and his property. Meanwhile Lulu's sexual adventures are ultimately for his pleasure as much as for her own – to win his approval and respect. Nevertheless, their convergent and complementary fantasies are believable and compelling. Even in her thirties, to him, she will always be his little girl, the horny teen whom he initiated into sex. He will always be her goad, her mentor and her comfort.
The Publisher's Weekly review (http://www.amazon.com/Ages-Lulu-Almudena-Grandes/dp/0802133487/) focuses mainly on all the kinky sex in the book: “an almost fetishistic obsession with sadomasochism, bondage, oral sex, sodomy, depilation, masturbation, voyeurism and so forth.” (Is there such a thing as a non-fetishistic obsession?) That is not what I remember about The Ages of Lulu. Long after I've forgotten about the specific sex scenes, I remember the erotic charge that Pablo and Lulu share, as he dares her to do the things she wants to do anyway.