Naked in Rutland: Titillating?


Was I trying to titillate the reader with my descriptions of what happens to Sally? It’s a question that has been nagging at me since, last week in Rutland, there was a lady brave enough to ask it – maybe even accuse me of it. I know absolutely I am not glorifying any aspect of what is unquestionably abuse – my intention is, of course, quite the opposite.

But what about the titillation?

Sometimes it takes a brave person to mention the elephant in the room – and there were in fact several such brave women at the reading group, where I was invited to answer questions about The Thinking Tank. I’ve talked about feeling naked before – having yourself out there, your written word being analysed, chewed over, interpreted, misinterpreted, whatever. But this was a bit different.

 I don’t usually feel the need to justify my choices – no, wrong – if I justify my choices, I usually feel comfortable. But then nobody has used that word, ‘titillation’ before. It has a nasty sting, that word, and is surely almost a subset of the word ‘gratuitous’.

What happens has to be seen through Sally’s eyes, and felt through Sally’s senses and conveyed to the reader as Sally herself experiences what is happening. Do we not all recognise those murky first stirrings of awakening through pseudo-sexual games? Is it not fair to relate it as it is, and with the effect it will inevitably have on a vulnerable player in my novel? If we are not moved by what is happening – aghast, shocked, thrust out of our comfort zone by uncomfortable passages as we follow Sally’s journey, then how can we possibly relate to what is the catalyst for all that happens thereafter? How can dot-dot-dot convey the horror of what occurs?

The dilemma remains with me, but The Thinking Tank is already out there…

Sally was titillated, despite the shame and the horror and the wanting to be wanted.  So we, being put into that place and into her mind and body, are also titillated. Is that how it works?

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3 responses »

  1. Titillated? I don’t think the Sally story ever left me feeling remotely titillated. I think we all judge situations, good and bad, based on our own experiences. When we read a novel, or hear a story, we ourselves into that situation and find our personal resonance that way. You were brave to write about such a difficult topic. I’m not sure I could have done. I applaud you for writing about an elephant in the room that they say affects a third of women. What you did was to show what happened and leave the reader to make up her own mind. Some may be titillated, others entertained, other sickened. What you achieved well here, was not judging, leaving the reader to decide. And that is commendable.

  2. I think it is necessary to confront difficult issues. I’ve not read the Thinking Tank so can’t comment on the specific passage but, I am very supportive of any writer pushing the boundaries on perceived wisdom and political correctness. If the reader felt titillated and then was ashamed of that feeling, it was easier for her/him to somehow ‘blame’ the writer. Ignore.

    • Thanks, Gilli. I honestly hadn’t even considered the possibility of the reader feeling ashamed at her own response and blaming me rather than owning the feeling – but of course, you could be spot on here. Or maybe it touched a raw nerve.

      As Jo says, we all respond in different ways and I do expect strong reactions to the passages – just didn’t expect that one. No doubt there is more of the unexpected to come…

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