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Thursday 26 March 2015

✍ Nine and a Half Weeks: A Memoir of a Love Affair - Elizabeth McNeill

Genre: Biographies & Memoirs
Published on by Harper Perennial (Reissue edition)
First Published in 1978
Number of pages: 160
My rating: ★ ★   It was OK
About the author

"An erotic novel which became a film starring Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger.  It began as a casual affair and ended nine and a half weeks later in a shattering climax of bondage, humiliation and ecstasy.  By day she was a successful career woman in Manhattan; by night, a trembling, erotic slave.

Elizabeth McNeill was an executive for a large corporation when she began an affair with a man she met casually. From the beginning, their sexual excitement escalates through domination and humiliation.  As the affair progresses, woman and man play out ever more dangerous and more elaborate sado-masochistic variations.  By the end, she has relinquished all control over her body and mind.

With a cool detachment that makes the experiences and sensations she describes all the more frightening in their intensity, Elizabeth McNeill beautifully unfolds her story and invites you to experience the mesmerizing, electrifying, and unforgettablly private world of Nine and a Half Weeks."

Why did I read this book?

The recent cinema release of "50 Shades of Grey" has sparked many debates, one of them being its derivative nature.  In particular, two works stood out:
  • "The Secretary" - a 2002 erotic romance movie which explores the BDSM relationship between an attorney, E. Edward Grey (James Spader) and his secretary (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

    The similarities are utterly undeniable, from his name to his red office, from the spanking to controlling her diet, and, as a final bow, from his own negative feelings towards his BDSM preferences to their happy union.
  • "Nine and a Half Weeks" - a 1978 memoir turned into a major flick in 1986.  I was familiar with the film but not with the book, hence I just had to read it.

    Once again the similarities are there: in the film the man's name is John Gray, he works in finance, and he is a kinky fu*k (riding crops, blind folds, restraints, etc.).  He controls her eating, he bruises her, he washes her, he dresses her, he changes her tampons...

What did I think of it, and should you read it?

First of all this book is not an erotic romantic novel.
If you are looking for steamy sex scenes, described to the very last throbbing detail, or for a fictionalised and romanticised account of a BDSM love story, this is not the right book for you.
You should also bear in mind that it is very different from its film version; it's grittier, darker and raw.

"Nine and a Half Weeks: A Memoir of a Love Affair" is narrated from the point of view of the author, Elizabeth McNeill, a high powered executive, who meets a man (we never know his name) and gets involved in a loving and yet abusive relationship which ends up conflicting her, consuming her and ultimately leads her to a severe mental breakdown.

The book description is very accurate, however I did not find this story "mesmerising" or "electrifying".  I found the writing style to be quite poor at times, with the author literally putting her stream of consciousness onto paper, in passages which I often found difficult to comprehend.

I also struggled to identify and sympathise with her feelings as she had clearly discovered a side of her sexuality which she clearly did enjoy: masochism.  Being controlled, beaten and humiliated was arousing for her.  Yet, she seemed to struggle accepting this, which led to her undoing.
On his side, her man, the master in their sado-masochistic relationship, clearly cared for her, and she describes how they spent hours talking about their lives.  It seemed to me that matters escalated as quickly as they did as he was attempting to retain her favours by not letting their relationship fall into boredom - which of course served to achieve the very opposite.

Overall I am glad I did read Day's memoir, as it clearly has a bigger meaning in its social context.  That is the element that captured my attention, as well as the human story of the author herself - hence below you can find a few biographical facts about her and a couple of articles I enjoyed.

About the Author

Elizabeth McNeill was the pen-name used by Ingeborg Day in 1978 to publish her erotic memoir "Nine and a Half Weeks".  This fact was only widely revealed in 2012, after her death.

Ingerborg Day was born in Graz, Austria, in 1940 and her father, Ernest Seiler, was a member of the Nazi S.S.

In 1957, as an exchange student, she moved to the USA where she met and married a trainee priest, Dennis Day.   They had a daughter, Ursula, in 1963, and a son, Mark, who died at the age of seven.

Day left her husband and moved to Manhattan with artist Tom Shannon, and became an editor at Ms magazine - a feminist publication - and a style icon.  It was during this time that the affair portrayed in Nine and a Half Weeks took place.

In 1980 she published "Ghost Waltz: A Family Memoir", where she explored her family’s dark Nazi past and the legacy of war and hate on her life.

In 1991, she married Donald Sweet, a man fourteen years her senior.

She committed suicide on May 18, 2011, aged seventy.   Her infirm husband died four days later.

Sarah Weinman has published two very interesting and insightful articles about Ingeborg Day:

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