With My Body is Nikki Gemmell’s tale of a wife and mother living an ideal if not happy life. She’s had a successful career as a lawyer, and is now raising her three children with her husband, a good man who will always love and provide for her. Though she’s always accepted that there was a never a “spark” with him, his endearing traits are now obscured by her overall annoyance with his shortcomings. She is bored with the drudgery of household chores, repetitive tasks, and feels the same way about the few and limited friendships that she has – she’s just caught in a rut all around. A provocative encounter with an acquaintance leads to the examination of a past affair and sexual awakening – how what began with passion and promise led to a lackluster existence.
Gemmell dares to write With My Body in the second person, and it made for one of the most problematic aspects of the novel. Instead of putting the reader firmly in the shoes of this woman, it created a pretty weird distance. Something about the specificity of the narrative didn’t square with the telling of the story, and the initial chapters of the housewife’s current circumstances and childhood dragged. I was sorely tempted to set this one aside, but the flow of the story improved as she approaches the relationship that had such a big impact on her life. This part of the novel is more engaging if only because most readers will have very definite opinions on the age difference of the participants. You/the narrator are sixteen; the male/lover is a middle-aged man. The sex is continuous, graphic and explicit – I grew a little weary of it, and the thinking (of both) that they could fuck their way to her personal and sexual liberation. One of the great debates of the book will probably be in whether that was accomplished and at how high a price.
I often think books like Gemmell’s serve as litmus tests of a kind. While there were things that didn’t work for me in the narrative, the story eventually became an engaging one, and one that offered surprises that alter the narrator’s perspective and the reader’s perceptions. With My Body readily lends itself to both discussion and self-discovery – if you’re willing to probe into your beliefs, why you believe what you do, and how you have formed notions of what is appropriate. Gemmell excels in conveying the voice of this character, particularly as an adolescent, and the story concludes on a note that is both satisfying and thought-provoking.