All The Books I Can Read

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My Hundred Lovers Read-a-long Discussion Part 2

on June 15, 2012

Hello everyone and welcome to the second week of discussion for My Hundred Lovers. Before we start I’d just like to thank everyone for the discussion last week! Everyone was so forthcoming with comments and opinions and that is what makes a read-a-long so thank you all for your high level of participation.

Now we’ve read 2/3’s of the book roughly and have learned a lot more about Deborah. Has anyone’s feelings on her changed at all? Do you feel any more or less understanding of her as a character and a woman? Do you judge her, for her actions? As we found out there are probably a few sections in this part that would raise eyebrows these days!

  • We’ve learned that Deborah was married but so far her husband has not been a large part of the book, only mentioned here and there. On p172, when talking about her love for the beach she says “The glorious summer I lived with my son across the road from Rainbow Beach after I lost my husband.” For those who have NOT read on past p173, do you want to take a guess of what she means by ‘lost’?
  • On p91, Deborah states that “In France, she was someone else. She was a girl whose limbs were free, with carte blanche to fill herself in.” She distances herself from this by referring to herself in the third person again, as though she’s talking about someone else, but she talks of herself. Why do you feel she felt things were different in France, that she could ‘fill herself in’?
  • Was anyone disturbed by the chapter ‘Three Men In One Day’ (p103)? This chapter gives more insight into her family and how they have fared while Deborah was in Paris: “…the sister had grown even more beautiful, the mother more drunk, the father on his magic carpet even further away with his endless maps and horizons. The poor brother had long since stepped onto that drinking path which would lead him to an early death.” She has also lost her beloved dog, put down due to old age and and family cat has disappeared. Do you think anything in that above quote impacted on her decision to sleep with the three men in one day? Is it more simple than that? Can Deborah just not say no?
  • Did you find it hard reading this chapter knowing that things today are quite different and that sort of behavior is is considered to be far more dangerous? Then, “Every girl was on the pill and no one used condoms.” Today there is an attempt at a far more different message concerning sexual safety. Do you think Deborah would’ve been as promiscuous if her time was now? Is it something that you don’t feel worries her at all?
  • The shadow lover, whom she is sleeping with upon her return from Paris (as well as the above 3 men) taunts her with remarks that she is not clever, nor is she as beautiful as her sister. She retaliates by “…sleeping with as many lovers as possible”. Why do you feel she stays with the shadow lover, who treats her this way? Whom she found sleeping with someone else at a party, the reason she slept with one of the 3 men in one day. Do you believe that she loves him? Is it habit?
  • The Blind Lover (p123) chapter interested me greatly. He seemed a good, caring, loving man, at ease with his disability and determined to live a full and happy life. Deborah tried and failed to fall in love with him – if she cannot love such a man, can she love any man who is good for her? Does she have a predisposition to drama that dates back to her childhood? Is she always destined to make bad decisions involving men?
  • In this section, Deborah has an abortion. The father of the child is unknown, due to all the men she has been sleeping with. Why do you think Deborah cries when the procedure is performed on her? Is it regret that she isn’t keeping the baby? Or something deeper, such as the reasons behind why she is in this situation? I found the quote “The kindly Chinese doctor has let Ro stand in for all the absent fathers” disturbing and sad. She then ignores a directive not to have penetrative sex for two weeks after the procedure and sleeps with someone she has zero interest in. Does this tie back in with the above question about Deborah not being able to say no? Equating sex with love, or with worth, or with something that she desperately seeks and will take from anywhere to fill a void?
  • When she finally leaves the shadow lover, she goes to the dissolute lover, which she describes as “out of the frying pan and into the fire!” Is this more indication of her incapability to make wise choices with men?
  • “By then the Suspicious Wanderer knew her romantic streak was fatal.” (p138). Do you agree that she has a romantic streak? Does her idea of romantic and yours match up? And how could it be fatal?
  • I felt a bright spot in this section, a beautiful chapter was the one concerning her love for Nana Elsie and vice versa (p147). Nana Elsie is proud of her in a way that her parents aren’t but this quote “There’s nothing like family Debbie. Friends are all very well but it’s family who stand by you when the chips are down” by Nana Elsie seems very idealised. Surely she recognises that it wasn’t particularly like that for Deborah?
  • We also see the return of ‘the deflowerer’, Jonathan Jamieson (p157). How did you feel about Deborah’s involvement with him?

I knew when I was preparing this post making my notes that I’d found lots I thought would be good for discussion but I didn’t realise it was quite so much! If I’ve left anything out that you feel is important, please don’t hesitate to bring it up. I’m looking forward to hearing how you all felt about this section.

29 responses to “My Hundred Lovers Read-a-long Discussion Part 2

  1. I haven’t quite finished this section, but (shock, horror) I have actually enjoyed some chapters this week!!

  2. The aspect of the story that most interested me was her addiction to valium (?)! How she lost her ‘gymnast’s’ body and became slow and lethargic. The ‘phase’ passes (with help of friend Ro) but it did make me think about her as an addicitive personality – how much has she learnt from her parents (her mother’s drinking and her father’s affairs)? Does she simply switch the focus of her addictions around – from love/sex to drugs and back again.

    • Oh yes, thank you! I had a point on her addictive personality and accidentally left it out! She also mentions trying smoking heroin at one stage (p120) and was frightened by how much she loved it as well as the addiction to pills.

      • Jessi says:

        I agree that it seems she has a very addictive personality – and not to the things that are good for her. I think it must be much harder for someone without a stable and loving home environment as a child to rationalize what is acceptable to them. She hasn’t had many good moral examples in her life.

    • I thought the section about losing her gymnast’s body was quite telling: at long last she’s become in a way desexualised, allowing her to live a life that’s about something other than sex. And yet, when this does happen, her days are empty and unfulfilling. Tragically, it seems that without sex/intimacy she’s nothing. Indeed, in the chapter about (ahem) bottoms, she mentions that bottoms are privately owned, implying that the rest of her is something to be shared.

      This also fits with the section about the end of the sexual revolution, where attitudes towards sex and promiscuity were so different from what they are today. Again, her identity is being constructed around her–not only by the people she is intimate with, but now by wider societal pressures. (I think, too, that this section marks the first time that she’s mentioned by name, suggesting that maybe there’s a newfound pressure to be seen as an individual?)

      I did find it quite moving when she reflects on whether her life’s trajectory is now fixed because of her sexual encounters, and also when she sadly notes how she continues to say yes even when she means no.

      Another thing that drew my attention is how blindness is a common motif in this section: there’s a sense of blindness as somehow something heightening, as something that’s pure and which allows greater engagement with the world without the baseness of vision.

      Finally, I found it interesting that she reflects on memory as being hierarchical and undemocratic, which sort of underscores my comment on the last post about the narrative been constructed in a sort of post-hoc manner.

      • I love your thoughts Stephanie. I’m not sure she knows how to relate to many people without the expectation of sex and when she’s trapped in this valium and biscuit haze it seems the few people she has contact with are just those she is living with. She has few real friends, few people that are in her life without some sort of sexual connotation.

        I find it interesting that in that chapter on bottoms, even though she’s not enjoying what is being done to her, she makes no attempt to prevent it. She only takes evasive action to turn her face later, but she doesn’t ever once try and redirect her lovers attention, or move. Even when she feels he may be moving towards sodomy, which she “doesn’t enjoy”. This ties in again with continuing to say yes, even when she means no, and I wonder why it’s so hard for her to say no, to anything…. It seems there’s much she sacrifices simply because it seems she’s unable to say a simple word and give herself something.

        I agree about the thoughts on blindness as well.

        • Actually, that reminds me of something I did want to comment on: the use of the word “bottom”. It seems like such a childish, prudish term to use given how heated and brazenly described much of the sexual stuff in this book is. It does certainly make me think of her being a blind innocent allowing things to happen to her, or as someone reverting to childish ways for the safety that allows.

  3. ‘Love lives in the body and when love dies the body is the first to know’ (p89). Isn’t that truth? For me, that quote struck a chord because I have experienced that feeling. As I think about the quote in relation to Deborah, it seems like a contradiction. In the context this is written, love and sex go hand in hand, and yet, there are many times in this section that love and sex are kept quite distinct from each other, continuing that theme of dissociation. Not always though. Sometimes Deborah seems to fall into that age-old “If I sleep with him he’ll love me” mindset. I think her need for approval and self-acceptance outweighs any issues with promiscuity at this time.

    The more I think about this book, the more I read, the more complex Deborah gets. One minute I think that she has a deep-rooted desire for approval, and then I consider her moniker “Suspicious Wanderer”. Her suspicion is probably rooted in her past, just as her desire for approval is; these conflicting aspects of her personality seem to lead to self-defeating behaviour. As for a romantic streak, I do think she has a romantic streak – that comes across quite strongly in the language used to describe her other, non-sexual lovers, for example. With her physical lovers, she wants romance, the whole hog, in one sense, but she knows it could hurt her – be the emotional death of her. So she remains suspicious and pushes away.

    For me, the words that stood out the most in this section were: “I did not know how to be intimate except through my body, as if I believed that in opening the door to my lips or my sex I had opened the door to myself” (p128). At this point, her body is the closest anyone, anything ever gets to her. It’s the closest the grass, the fingernails, the men – save perhaps her son, but I’m still getting to that section – even her Nana Elsie, gets to her. Her Nana Elsie knows her as much as Deborah will let her know her, but yet she (Nana Elsie) seems ignorant of some critical family dynamics. (That chapter, Bree, was lovely, I’m just off on a different tangent here…). A lifetime of suspicion, a lifetime of dissociating from pain, all probably going back to a lack of attachment with her mother, means Deborah just doesn’t know how to really let someone under her skin. And even if she did, could she?

    Yes, Bree, there certainly were a few chapters in this section that raised my eyebrows and I’m guessing you did at the same time as me! But, I am enjoying this read along. You raised some excellent questions, but I fear I would be here all night if I thought and wrote about them all. Right now, it’s off to rest my aching head! I’m sorry if I have babbled today – I have a cold 😦

  4. […] All The Books I Can Read to see what other readers have to […]

  5. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out says:

    Here are my thoughts:
    “I did not know how to be intimate except through my body, as if I believed that in opening the door to my lips or my sex I had opened the door to myself”

    I think this is the essential truth for Deborah in this section of the book, her inability to separate acceptance, approval and love from sexual intimacy, and the beginning of the realisation that sex is not enough.

    The Husband: I haven’t read on, my assumption of lost is that he has died, but it it may just as easily be that he left her for someone else.

    The abortion and its aftermath: I think Deborah choosing to have sex so soon after her abortion against medical advice, and with a man she is not really attracted to, is a way of punishing herself, as much as a symptom of being unable to say no. More interesting I think, is that the Linea Nigra does not usually show up til the second trimester so her pregnancy must have been fairly advanced before she noticed it, which says something about the disconnect between her body and her mind. “She lost her body so long ago she forgot she lost it.”

    The Shadow Lover: To me the Shadow Lover is almost a surrogate for her relationship with her parents. He withholds his love and approval just as they did yet Deborah is desperate to prove herself worthy, “because the compelling drive to repeat the past is encoded in the cells of certain young women.”

    The Grandmothers: I enjoyed the stories of Rose, Lili and Elsie, women of incredible strength.

    The Deflowerer: I think most woman have a special place in their hearts for their first lover, that Deborah seduces him is morally reprehensible but also in character, she is desperate to recapture the joy and depth of emotions she has lost in the intervening years. That she vows ‘she will strive to find someone to love” when they part which tells me she recognises that she has not truly loved but that it is something she wants.

    Post is here:

  6. I found this section of the novel really sad. I felt so sorry for Deborah, she seemed so lost. I thought her susceptibility to addiction, and her inability to say no were rooted in the same place – she looked externally for any self worth. She looked to intake drug, flawed biscuits, men, to make things better, to make herself better.

    I agree with Shelleyrae @book’d out about punishing herself…

    I thought it interesting that she identified herself as a romantic, but to me so much of her relationship behaviour was anything but romantic…

    A random comment – I thought one of the cleverest lines in this section was: “Nana Elsie said to me afterwards, ‘There’s nothing like family, Debbie. Friends are all very well, but it’s family who stand by you when the chips are down’. She would never acknowledge that families are frequently the reason that the chips are down.” p.148

  7. I’ve been looking forward to our discussion this week, because often I don’t have the chance to discuss the books I’m reading with others on such a detailed level, and when I read Chapter Thirty-Eight, I was confused and desperately wanted to discuss it with you all.

    I understand her husband wanted to make love to Debbie although she had fallen out of love with him; that is straight forward and I’m sure many of us have been at one or both ends of unrequited love. However, is she using the slam of the coffin as an analogy for the death of the love she had for her husband or something more? Does she feel dead inside?

    Debbie’s reluctance to tell us about her husband and the circumstances surrounding their relationship tells me there is something quite significant there. She is protective of this relationship in particular and open about other passing liaisons. We’re now 3/4 of the way through the book and I’m hoping she will open up to us soon. I can certainly feel the tension building, can you?

  8. Megan Warren says:

    Some great comments – I have had a suspected wrist for the past week – So I’m playing catch up, hope to get back on track and blog about the book this week.

  9. Marg says:

    This book is provoking so many emotions for me. There are times when it is completely shocking, and other moments that are really beautiful passages to read and there are lots of ways that I am feeling as though I can relate to Deborah as well.

    Here are my thoughts.

  10. I found that I actually like some chapters this time (which I may have mentioned earlier) but also found some of the chapters written for the pure shock value they would cause. The almost through-away mention of drugs and abortion is case in point.

    The mention of a husband that comes and goes so quickly between chapters irritates me. They, as husband and wife, move to Paris only for him to not be mentioned again. What is happening there?

    The lines about family are very true though. I felt something with that.

    But otherwise, still not enjoying it on the whole.

  11. […] part in the read-a-long have dissected the book into a million pieces – you can see all the comments over at 1 Girl 2 Many […]

  12. […] Hundred Lovers, by Susan Johnson (Discussion – Parts One, Two and […]

  13. […] Bree raised a stack of interesting discussion points – well done to her. If you follow this link, you’ll see what they are. Here’s my contribution this […]

  14. […] Bree raised a stack of interesting discussion points – well done to her. If you follow this link, you’ll see what they are. Here’s my contribution this […]

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