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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten

Happy Sex

Happy Sex - Zep, Catherine Labey I've just finished translating this masterpiece... I was going to post it on my "Translations" page, but saner members of the household persuaded me in time that that might not be a good idea. If you want a copy, give me your email address and I'll send you the PDF.

Happy Valentine's Day, Internet!


Right now, Zep is the francophone world's most popular cartoonist, but I hadn't really come across his work before. I bought a copy of Happy Sex in a Geneva bookstore yesterday, and I can certainly see why people like him.

The book consists of about sixty cartoons, all on the subject of sex and all very explicit. This kind of thing usually leaves me cold, since it's so easy to get wrong. For example, one frequent convention is uniformly to portray the women as Playboy centerfold sex dolls and the men as Baywatch-style hunks. Zep absolutely doesn't do that. A few of the women are babes, and a few of the men are hunks, but mostly they just look like people. Another thing I loathe is the style of sex humor which revolves around the idea of slyly referring to something forbidden or naughty through a double entendre: this is what Monty Python so brilliantly satirize in the "Nudge Nudge" sketch. Again, Zep avoids the trap. He just takes it for granted that people have oral sex, experiment with role play and dressing up, try a threesome every now and then to see what it's like, and so on. To be honest, my own sex life isn't quite as exciting as this - as usual, the French are ahead of the curve - but I certainly find it easier to relate to than variants on "Nudge Nudge". Zep is just telling funny, sharply observed stories about sex.

So rather than giving abstract descriptions, why don't I show you an example? Here are two I found when I had a quick look around on the web. In this one, "Chair de ma Chair" ("Flesh of my Flesh"), we see the married couple in bed, evidently in the middle of getting it on. I'll provide an English translation for the benefit of the non-francophones in the audience.

"Darling" she says as she lies under him. "We really have wonderful children, don't we?"

"Mm" he replies, his mind evidently elsewhere.

"Paul's become such a little guy!" she continues.

"Mm" he says again.

"You don't think so?" she asks, surprised.

"Look," he says, pulling out of her. "Do you think we could stop talking about the kids while we're having sex?"

"What?!" she says, deeply hurt. "What's wrong, Edouard? Don't you love our children? They're the most beautiful thing we have. Why should we forget them while we're making love?"

"I ADORE OUR CHILDREN!!" shouts Edouard, who's close to losing it. "But I don't think about them while we're FUCKING!"

"Oh!" she says, shocked. "I think about them every minute of the day."

"Forget it" says Edouard, who's figured out that things will only get worse if this discussion continues. He rolls over and is going to try and go to sleep, when in comes a rather damp three year old.

"I've peed in my bed" she confesses in a small voice.

"Well go and talk with Mommy," growls Edouard. "She was just thinking about you!"

And don't get the idea that he's always on the man's side. Here's another one from the woman's perspective. The curtain opens on a typical scene of amateur S&M:

"You must obey me! You are my object!" she says, as she rests one boot-clad foot on him.

"Yes," he replies.

"Yes mistress," she reminds him.

"Yes mistress," he says submissively.

Then the doorbell rings.

"Well answer it!" she says sharply.

"Huh? You're kidding, right, honey?!" he says, suddenly going out of character.

"Obey me!" she says angrily. "Answer it now!"

"I'm just going to put on my pa..." he mumbles, as the doorbell continues to ring.

"SLAVE, GO AND ANSWER IT!!!" she shouts.

He gives up and does what she says. The postman looks rather taken aback.

"Hello... uh. Special delivery" he stammers.

"I need a signature. Do you have a pen?"

"NOT ON ME!!" says the guy, somehow not in a very good mood.

In the final panel, the dominatrix has changed into her ordinary clothes and is chatting with her friend.

"How's your husband? Still into S&M?" she asks.

"Hm!" says the dominatrix. "You know, I think I might have cured him!"