Whispers of the Flesh by Louisa Burton
Whispers of the Flesh is the third volume in Louisa Burton’s Hidden Grotto series of erotic novels. The series is set in the mysterious valley of the Grotte Cachée, hidden in the mountains of Auvergne, France. Despite its isolation, the valley has been inhabited for long ages by a variety of peoples. It houses sacred altars among ancient oaks, a marble bath house decorated with outrageous erotic sculpture, a volcanic cave with a healing spring and psychotropic vapors, and the medieval chateau where generations of seigneurs have lived out their lives over the centuries.
The valley is also home to a quartet of immortals whom the seigneurs have sworn to protect and serve. Inigo the satyr is a happy-go-lucky ambisexual with prodigious genitalia and a libido to match. Lili is a stunningly beautiful Mesopotamian goddess who requires sexual congress with mortals in order to survive. Elic is Norse demon who can assume the shape of either male or female in order to couple with humans of either sex. Finally, Darius is a djinn with the power to assume animal shapes and to heal. He is cursed with an irresistible sensitivity to human emotion; if he senses a human’s desire, he cannot help but fulfill it.
The earlier books were structured as a series of vignettes jumping back and forth through time. Through privilege or chance, humans would visit the chateau and be drawn into the sexual games and intrigues of the four “follets”. The follets need a continuous supply of human lust. The lord of the Hidden Grotto is committed to providing this. Across the centuries, the chateau has played host to innumerable seductions, orgies, slave auctions, and mock satanic rituals. The humans involved rarely come to understand that their primary role is to fulfill the sexual requirements of the immortals. Nevertheless, they usually leave sated, and often wiser, for their experiences
Whispers in the Flesh offers a slightly different structure. The action occurs in three time periods: the eighteen twenties, the early nineteen seventies, and the present. However, the stories are intertwined. Back in the nineteenth century, a rigidly chaste Jesuit arrives at the chateau, ostensibly to complete a landscape design plan but actually to investigate persistent rumors of demons and black magic.
At the height of the hippie era, a clot of young pleasure seekers converge on the valley for a week of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Among them is the future wife of the current administrateur, the seneschal whose descendants over the ages have organized life for the seigneur of the Grotte Cachée.
In the present, the adminstrateur Emmett Archer lies on his deathbed, suffering from aggressive pulmonary fibrosis. His daughter Isabel has arrived at the chateau to spend what are probably his last days, and to contemplate how to refuse the responsibility of taking over his hereditary position. She cannot bear to spend her life serving the young seigneur Adrian Morel, for whom she harbors an impossible passion. Also visiting is Hitch, an old comrade of Emmett’s from the days of the Vietnam war.
Each thread of the tale influences future events. To avoid revealing to much, I won’t say anything more about the plot. However, the new structure of this novel gives it a different rhythm than the previous books, in some ways more effective.
When I reviewed the earlier books, I commented that the characterizations of the follets seemed less fully realized than those of the humans around them, partly because they do not involve themselves emotionally with their “victims”. I found Whispers of the Flesh more satisfying in this regard. Both Darius and Lili reveal themselves more fully, especially in their interactions with the priest David Beckett. Elic and Lili, lovers who cannot physically consummate their passion, suffer from jealousy and remorse. And Isabel, a woman from the outside world despite her familiarity with the follets, has some serious conflicts with them.
Although it delves somewhat deeper into the immortals’ history and motivations and even has intimations of tragedy and death, Whispers of the Flesh still struck me as a light-hearted romp, full of extravagant sexual excess enjoyed mostly for the pleasure of it. The two exceptions are Lili’s seduction of Beckett, who struggles against his own vows of chastity, and Isabel’s apparently doomed coupling with Adrian. Both of these scenes offered an emotional intensity lacking in most of the sexual interactions.
Ms. Burton’s sex scenes are a lot of fun. Also, the entire attitude of this series is emphatically sex-positive. Sex almost always produces favorable outcomes, though not necessarily happily ever afters.
On the other hand, my personal notion of eroticism requires something more than just mutual pleasure. For me, a story needs to have some sort of edge to be erotic. Something more important than a climax needs to be at stake. Thus, though I found Whispers of the Flesh to be entertaining, it was only occasionally arousing. This of course is a personal reaction. For some people, the very notion of unbridled sexual activity is exciting. The follets gleefully violate taboos left and right. For some readers, this will be a turn on. I may just be jaded.
In any case, Whispers of the Flesh offers safe, sane, diverse and diverting sex, set in an historically-convincing environment laced with just the right amount of magic. If this sounds appealing, I recommend the book highly.