My experience of reading erotic literature started quite young. A classmate brought along some copies of Mills and Boon wrapped in brown paper to school one day – I’m not sure what possessed her to bring along what I think was her mother’s stash of books. My first experience of reading erotic stories began right there in a convent girls’ primary school. We stifled giggles throughout that first reading session. But really, we ought to have blushed at the ‘heaving bosoms’, ‘penetrating tongues’ and ‘hard manhoods’. We were a curious and interested group, us 11 year old girls. We would flick though the books and pick out all the steamy scenes and mark them out. We’d pass them along and try and read them aloud without blushing or breaking into fits of laughter. We didn’t care for narrative – we just wanted to read about the sex! Occasionally we’d get busted by a teacher and the book would be confiscated. We wondered often where the teacher hid our books. Perhaps they were reading them at lunchtimes? Our Mills and Boon became precious things, especially because they were banned. They’d be wrapped in either brown paper or birthday wrapping paper. Surely no one would guess what titillation lay behind the wrapping!
We’d go to annual book sales in groups – all of us keeping our eyes out for anything that could be steamy or racy. Usually we judged the book by its cover. If the man had rippling muscles and was half naked and the woman had a half-ripped bodice, it would indicate some level of steaminess. We would place our selections nervously at the counter hoping nobody would ask how old we were. Sometimes the covers let us down – the sex scenes were too few and far between and even worse, occasionally there were no bodice-ripping scenes.
When we left primary school we continued to read these books in secondary school. We cherished them. These books were fantasy and we absolutely loved them. The nuns were strict and tolerated no such dalliances with erotic literature. They ran random spot checks every so often. Certain classes would be emptied out and prefects would rummage through bags and desks. Some girls resorted to hiding books in bicycle baskets. Some even parked their bicycles strategically under the balconies of our classes and would throw these contraband books over the balcony when a spot check was announced. The excitement and the tension these books created for us! These books generated real buzz and it made us dream and fantasise about our ideals for when we grew up.
What Krissy’s Triptych does for me is that it has made my limited world of erotica open up: from tween/teen saccharine, highly metaphoric sex scenes to dreamlike but confronting sexual encounters of the taboo kind. And I enjoyed my experience so much I reread it again. It made me imagine possibilities and took me back to my childhood when imagination and fantasy were powerful tools for dreaming. One thing led to another I must confess.
The descriptions of octopuses in Krissy’s story made me crave for smoky chargrilled octopus, salt and pepper calamari, stuffed squid with Arborio rice braised in red wine sauce. I looked up recipes and ogled at pictures in cookbooks.
All these cravings for cephalopod were disturbing I have to admit. The thought of tentacles gliding over the character, Leda’s nipples in the rockpool made me imagine I was in a Greek taverna sifting through mounds of chewy, textural tentacles and smashing the baby soft, meltingly tender octopus heads against the hard roof of my palate. I would forgo all cutlery and eat with my hands. I wanted to relish the octopus flesh between my fingers, feel the lemon juice and slippery olive oil dripping down my wrists. I would try not to get too much juice on my clothes and face. There’s nothing better than the combination of smoke, acid and oil to stimulate one’s tastebuds.
Krissy’s demarcation of sex in real life, fantasy, memoir, make-believe, taboo and what is acceptable behaviour blurs. While Krissy’s essence always comes back to the pleasure of the flesh, my mind is that of a glut. I always seem to come back to the pleasure of food. This state seems to be innate and natural for me. Thanks to Triptych I now see octopuses everywhere – as brooches on the lapels on newsreader’s jackets, as graffiti on exposed brick walls, as sculptures by the sea and by far, the most interesting – as sensual playmates in rockpools. And as I munch on these crispy battered tentacles I will always think of Triptych.
To celebrate the launch of our new website, Stilts hosted, ‘Brisbane Authors write letters and other things’: a chain letter for novels, memoir, poetry published in 2011.
Mei Yen Chua is the author of the indispensable Brisbane food guide, Brisbane’s Budget Bites.