BOOK REVIEW / Fruity appetites

Victoria Coren, confronted by a plate of girlie pornography, takes a cautious nibble; Eat Me by Linda Jaivin Chatto & Windus, pounds 9.99

According to a recent feature in the News Of The World - brilliantly titled "Ooh, You Are Author!'' - there are "an estimated five million British girls who love a dirty novel." Women's porn, it seems, is the hot new genre. Eat Me is not only girl-for-girl action, it's also Australian, feminist and vaguely (God help us) post-modern.

This generous helping of sauce for the goose is peppered with strident female academics and vegetarians, who meet in Sydney cafes to discuss their fantasies. Though explicitly sexual, most of these focus in some way on food - hence the title. Think women and danger, naughtiness and illicit thrills and you end up, unerringly, at the fridge door.

The novel opens with an episode involving a woman and an array of fruit: this is the Marianne Faithfull Mars Bar trick for a health-conscious generation. It sounds rather uncomfortable, if you ask me - particularly the kiwi fruit - but at least she stops short of making out with a pineapple.

The imagery throughout is all giant leeks and plum puddings; in one section, Jake "peeled off Julia's clothes as if they were the leaves of a steamed artichoke... his gaze rested on the Mediterranean caramel of her belly before proceeding down... to the folds of moist gravlax". A pretty unappetising mixture, if you think about it.

Even when the snacks are left behind, the sex scenes are too metaphorical for simple gratification. Getting it together with a Chinese circus performer, one girl confesses: "I kneel down and swallow the sword of the sword-swallower, charm the snake of the snake-charmer." Lucky for him he wasn't a ringmaster. Another obstacle to erotic success is that the novel is plagued by common sense and humour. Slinking seductively towards a lover, "the smooth soles of [Helen's] new shoes slid on the linoleum and she came in for a rather clumsy landing on his lap. `Oof,' he cried, despite himself."

Erotica, more than any other genre, demands the suspension of disbelief and here it is undercut by earthy reason. Like most things that come out of Australia, this is funny and likeable, but deeply unerotic. Bathos and realism are the enemies of porn, that realm where fantasy swells unimpeded. There is no room for, if you will forgive me, the deflating prick.

But Jaivin's main problem is that successful porn is inherently nasty, and her attempt to reclaim it for a right-on readership is admirable but doomed. Eat Me's women are very sexually empowered - always on top, talking of "engulfment" rather than penetration - no thrills for the unreconstructed girl here. Even the food is all trendy international deli-produce: "Camilla poked the tip of her tsurros into her latte and fellated the long pastry". Not so sexy with a saveloy and weak tea, I guess.

Condoms interrupt the flow (yes,yes), peeping Toms pause to point out that "the women I watch are all perfectly safe", and Jaivin gets into terrible ideological confusion with an episode in which a woman hires a black slave but takes pains to stress that "we're enacting a fantasy, with his consent", thus pleasing no-one. As a literary exercise, it's all very interesting - but the fact is, you can't be right-on when you jerk off.

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