All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

My Hundred Lovers – Discussion Part 3 and Wrap-Up

on June 22, 2012

Hello everyone and welcome to the third and final part of the discussion on My Hundred Lovers, by Susan Johnson. How is everyone? It’s a terrible day here where I am, perfect for reading and hopefully for some dissecting of this book!

So in the third part of the book we learn a few little things that some of us had been wondering throughout. I’ll talk a little bit about this section and then at the end I’ll have a little bit about the book overall. As always, feel free to bring up your own points of discussion or issues that have resonated with you in any way.

  • What do you think of Deborah’s unusual friendship with the eccentric Horatia? Do you like Horatia?
  • Do you think Deborah was drawn to ‘the beautiful lover’ because of his “full sensuous mouth that bore a curious resemblance to my fathers”? (p177). Or did she just want to sleep with a very beautiful man, so she could say/know that she had!
  • The chapter entitled ‘Breasts’ was for me, both beautiful and sad, one part devoted to her new son and the joy she feels at him and also the wonder at her new ‘page 3 breasts’ and the other part devoted to her husband’s belligerent attitude towards the new baby. Satisfied vs unsatisfied. It seems like the sort of chapter that deliberately raises sympathy towards Deborah and directs animosity towards her husband.
  • The Suspicious Wanderer’s past catches up with her in the chapter ‘The worried lover’ (p191) where she undergoes a test for HIV, which is becoming more commonly known. Do you think that the rise of AIDS and the fact that she knew someone that contracted it had any repercussions on Deborah’s behaviour?
  • In this section, Deborah has a liason with a woman. Do you feel that she is genuinely bisexual, merely curious or in love with the idea of love, no matter where it may come from?
  • Her husband is named David, the same name as her father. Do you feel this is significant? (p219). Do you think that she just keeps finding men who remind her of her father in some way, in any way?
  • Her father buys for her and her alone, a beautiful black pearl (p226) – not one for her mother or her sister. It seems that this sort of event happened all too infrequently in her life, someone singling her out and giving her something beautiful.
  • David an Deborah marry in haste, despite numerous warnings from various people. Did it seem their union was destined to be doomed from the start? (p227)
  • In this section, we finally find out what became of their marriage (p243). Did you see this coming or did it surprise you? Why do you think Deborah still refers to him as her husband, even though he is not?
  • Just after that chapter, is a beautiful moment shared between her and her sister Jane (p246). I know that I for one, would’ve liked to have seen a little more of their turbulent relationship. Do you think that enough insight into the two sisters was given?
  • When Deborah finds that there were people who knew of the affair, she never speaks to any of them ever again (256). Does this seem fair/reasonable to you? Especially after she tolerated the shadow lover’s years of infidelity? Did you feel sympathy for her?
  • Deborah grieves more for  the loss of the houseboat and the local houseboat community than she does her husband (p257). Is she right to feel such anger, hurt and betrayal even though she doesn’t love him anymore? Or should she have just let go?

Now that the whole book is complete, how do you feel about it now, versus in the beginning? Did you enjoy it more or less as the book went on? Do you feel you were given a whole picture of Deborah, her life and her lovers? Or do you feel there were things missing, things you would’ve liked elaborated? Did you enjoy the read-a-long experience, if it was a new one for you? Would you do it again? For what it’s worth, I think this book was absolutely perfect for a read-a-long! There are few books I’ve read that I think could’ve generated such discussion on so many topics!

I’d just like to say thanks to everyone that participated and joined in the discussion, I certainly had a lot of fun hosting! Thanks also to Allen & Unwin for organising this and setting us all up with copies of the book.

34 responses to “My Hundred Lovers – Discussion Part 3 and Wrap-Up

  1. I’ll be first to reply. If it is possible, I believe I liked My Hundred Lovers less as I read through, though I did manage to finish it (big woohoo for me). I felt as though we got a very juandiced view of this woman, as if the author didn’t like her character.

    As for what was missing, I would have liked to see some real tender moments in there, where she celebrates life without any detracting element to it. Everything seemed to be poisoned with some negativity. I could rarely enjoy a chapter for this reason, though my personal favourite was ‘Words’.

    I loved this experience. Being a only male reading such a strongly opinionated book (notice I didn’t say chicklit this time!!) and being so far out of my comfort zone was interesting. Thanks Bree and @AllenAndUnwin for pushing me outside my boundaries.

    Will be back for more comments.

    PS: I would not recommend this book!!

    • I have to commend you on your honesty throughout the read-a-long Stephen, it is not easy to post such thoughts! I do think you had it pretty tough as the only bloke taking part, a lot of the women found it easy to relate to Deborah in one way or another. It’s good to push yourself though, you may not enjoy every experience stepping outside your comfort zone but I’m sure there’ll be times when you pick up something unlikely and end up loving it.

      I’m glad you managed to finish the book and also that this didn’t deter you from a future read-a-long experience! Hopefully should you take part in another one, the book will be more to your liking.

  2. Feistykel says:

    Deborah is such a complex creature. Thats a kind way of saying kinda messed up in the head… I guess I felt for her because of that, though I struggled with the negativity she brought to her life too. It felt real though. I wonder if her inability to deal with the affair somehow relates to the David/Father connection? As you know I was really interested in the relationship with her sister so wou;ldve liked to have read more about that.

    I enjoyed the book, it was quite a complex psyche to delve into!

    • I agree that she’s complex…. She does seem to carry a lot of baggage and issues and her life has seemed to lead her down a path that creates more. I think her childhood definitely set her on a way that led her to seek out situations that would only bring more trouble, in her search for a sort of peace or happiness.

  3. traceyallen9 says:

    Hello everyone. First, can I post a link to my blog post on the wrapping up of the read-along? I mentioned on Twitter it was bookish bliss to engage with other book bloggers in a read-along and I really enjoyed it. Thanks to Bree for hosting 🙂

  4. Reblogged this on Stephen Ormsby and commented:
    Here’s the wrap-up for our blog discussion.

  5. Overall I enjoyed this book but a few thoughts as I finished it. Ultimately, Geraldine Brooks’ testimonial on the book’s cover was misleading. The story wasn’t really about an “erotic adventurer” – Deb seemed to stumble into relationships rather than seek them out.

    Secondly, Brooks promised that “…through these vivid stories of the flesh, a mind and a soul emerge in full.” Interesting because I felt that even to the very last page, Deb was still holding something back. I don’t mind finishing a book with questions remaining but I don’t like feeling as if I haven’t come to know the main character any better (especially given that this book ‘revealed’ so much). I felt like I knew Deb’s friend Ro better than I knew Deb.

    I did like the twist (but won’t say anymore for fear of spoiling it for some). I also have been thinking about my own ‘hundred loves’ – certainly not as exotic as Deb’s but it has got me thinking about my favourite things 🙂

    Read my full review here –

    Thanks again for hosting and thanks to Allen & Unwin – I really enjoyed my first read-along and look forward to taking part again.

    • Like you, this book definitely had me thinking of things I love (I listed some in a previous post). There are many things I could list really, but I don’t think mine would be as interesting or anywhere near as controversial as Deborah’s!

      Thanks for taking part 🙂

    • The twist – I did not see that coming. I ended up going back to an earlier chapter in which Deborah says “You might say that, in a modest way, she was avenging her coming self.” In hindsight it was all there.

    • Great point about the “erotic adventurer” quote. The book is definitely more of an account of an “erotic flailer”, with Deborah just sort of hazily stumbling in and out of sexual encounters. It’s sort of sad that much of Deborah’s reflection on these encounters only occurs with this retrospective narrative, rather than at the time of the encounters–it’s little wonder she just meandered from one to another given this lack of self-reflection.

  6. Marg says:

    Thanks Bree for hosting the readalong. I don’t think I would have picked this book up had I just seen it on the shelves in the bookstore, but ultimately I found it to be a very enjoyable read. My final thoughts are here:

  7. I don’t think I’ve heard of this book before but it sounds really interesting! Despite the fact that I haven’t read the book, thank you for hosting the discussion!

    Fantastic post, Bree! ♥

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

  9. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out says:

    Thanks Bree for hosting this read-along, its been an interesting experience.
    I have posted my wrap up here

  10. First of all, thanks to Allen & Unwin for inviting us to be part of the read along (it has been a new, but insightful experience for me), to Bree for being a great host (even if I did have to make my own drinks and nibblies), to my fellow bloggers for making this so interesting, and to Susan for writing a book that has challenged us in a lot of ways. Susan, your love of language is, for me, the most stand out thing about this book. You do have a gift.

    My Hundred Lovers has been challenging and confronting on a number of levels. Some of the chapters certainly took me out of my comfort zone, while others were a poetic pleasure. At times I loved how Deborah expressed how things made her feel, how she described things that gave her pleasure – such as eating a gelato. At that moment, I wanted to eat a gelato…even though I was cold. These chapters were such a contrast to the more distant ones when she relates her sexual experiences. Those chapters left me cold. It was as if she could not connect emotion and sex in the same way she could fuse the sensuality of her non-sexual experiences.

    Deborah’s contradictory nature was confusing. I imagine that if I met her I would struggle to understand her. At times she shows an incredible amount of self-awareness – “she could never own it, in the same way she could never own existence…her existence was air” (p186-7). Her understanding of the small things, the grass, the roses, places, is so acute; at times she is so in tune, it’s mind-boggling. And then she distances herself from this awareness and looks at herself from the outside, like she can’t or won’t reconcile some of her experiences with who she wants to be.

    What else confronted me? My inability to really warm to Deborah. I wanted to love this book. I can’t say I loved it, because for me something was missing. I believe that was a “relationship” with the protagonist. I’ve just read over others’ comments and it was interesting that booksaremyfavouriteandbest had similar feelings by the end of the book. (I also agree that the cover quote was a bit misleading because I didn’t feel that Deborah was as much an erotic adventurer as someone who fell into situations and then had to try to sort it in her head.) What I can say is that I enjoyed the new reading experience it opened up. I enjoyed the discussions, the thought it promoted. I read with anticipation because Susan’s love of language was so clear and I enjoyed the book best at that level. I do prefer narratives that are more structured and flowing rather than disjointed, like Shelleyrae @book’d, however, this format suited Deborah and her “all over the place” persona.

    I was intrigued by the quote “The Suspicious Wanderer enjoyed being marooned outside language”. Living in France, not fully understanding the language was restful to Deborah. I think this period in her life, with a different language and a different culture, was a means of escape in many ways for her. She’s marooned – there’s no one to rescue her – and she doesn’t need rescuing or want it in France. She’s like a castaway on an island and she’s loving it because she doesn’t have to justify herself to anyone. And even if she did, she couldn’t. She can be whoever she wants to be because she can create a whole new history for herself.

    With regards to her husband, I do think it’s significant that he has the same name as her father. Firstly, the chapter ends with that point. The reader is invited to dwell on that significance and make something of it. Deborah idealised and idolised her father. In her words, she fell in love with him and she wanted to protect him. She admits that he is the basis for her attraction to many unsuitable men. She knows he’s not perfect. In the man who will become her husband she sees someone who could be perfect. It’s as if there are “signs” that convince her he is the one. He has her father’s name (she loved and idolised her father), he has “a heart” (works for Medecins SDans Frontieres), he speaks fluent French (France is her island and he’s landed on it), he’s tall and moves with a natural grace (like her father). Deborah so much wants to read the signs in her favour that she misses the signals from Celestine and the more direct warnings from her friends. She’s in denial and she’s looking for anything that will support what she really wants.

    Once again, thanks to all involved. I hope we can find another book to generate such thinking – I’d like to do this again.

    • Thanks for your amazing participation Monique, I love your long and thoughtful responses. I think your comments about Deborah and her husband and the correlation with the relationship with her father are spot on. It is interesting that after watching her parents unhappy marriage, her mother resorting to drinking whilst her father philandered, she still rushed into marriage, she chose someone that reminded of her father, with the same name, and also physically. And ultimately, he behaved the same way in marriage that her father had.

  11. A big thanks from me too, Bree for doing such amazing job – you’re a fabulous host! Thanks too to Allen and Unwin!

    I think reading this book in three parts worked really well, and stopping and discussing at each third made it a really interesting reading experience. For me I found the first third very raw and hyper-sexual, the second third as very sad, introspective and then this final third of the book I found incredibly poetic.

    Her short one page chapters about roses, breasts, gelato all seemed to me poetry that stood out from the main story itself.

    I agree a quite strongly with Booksaremyfavouriteandbest, in that I think this book was somewhat misrepresented (I’m not sure why) as this last section of the book really drove home to me that this was largely about loss and heartbreak, as opposed to erotic adventure.

    Deborah’s experience is so different to my own that I did find it hard to connect with her on an obvious level, but I did nonetheless feel very sad for her as she grieved the loss of her parents, her friends and her husband.

    I’m really pleased that I was invited to read this book, I’m not sure if I would of without prompting, and I think it’s a really unique, special and moving novel. Not always easy, not always nice, but intriguing nonetheless.

    I’ll be posting my full review of the book at That Book You Like… later this week if you want to pop by 🙂

  12. Reblogged this on That Book You Like… and commented:
    The final instalment of the three part read-along of ‘My Hundred Lovers’ I’ll be posting my review of this book later in the week, but have a look over the comments from other bloggers, it’s really interesting.

  13. Tracey (My4Bucks) says:

    Hello all, I’ve written my book review here but wanted to finish up my contribution to the blogger discussions; where we can reveal more about the plot lines without worrying about spoilers.

    One of my favourite turning points in the book was Chapter Seventy, The Worried Lover, where The Suspicious Wanderer is suddenly repulsed by the idea of opening her mouth to a stranger and believes her body might be polluted, perhaps with AIDS. This is such a shift from previous chapters where she freely gives of her body but here she worries that she is ‘too little loved.’

    From here I believe she comes to see her body as more sacred, and her self respect begins to take shape.

    Moving on to Deb’s relationship with her husband and the shocking revelation on page 243: “I still think of my husband as my husband, even though he is my sister’s husband now.” Wow, this really packed a punch, and I actually groaned out loud while reading this in bed in the wee hours of the morning. I found myself longing to read the dialogue between the characters, what did her husband have to say for himself? What justification could the sister possibly have? Was it sibling rivalry or was it legitimate love? I was left desiring more detail and this was very clever writing.

    This relationship certainly filled in some gaps regarding Deb’s life and answered some urgent questions. I agree with my fellow bloggers though in that My Hundred Lovers wasn’t a tell all style novel enabling the reader to establish a close relationship with the main character. It was a collection of memories, and while the reader does have an intimate sense of Deb’s life there is still much about the woman we don’t know, and this is as it should be.

  14. Susan says:

    I also wanted to add my great big *thanks* to Bree for hosting such a wonderful discussion! I haven’t always pitched in with opinion (my house was hit by the plague last week and I didn’t think you’d all be interested in hearing about My Hundred Chuckers) but I have been following the dialogue closely. I have found it intriguing how differently everyone has perceived the book and what varied expectations we all seem to have brought into this novel. I guess it just goes to show that controversial subject-matter invokes the broadest responses.

    Unless I’ve missed it somewhere, I find it interesting that no-one has investigated the autobiographical nature of this novel, posing that some of the experiences/thoughts/musings may actually be the author’s own. It may interest some of you to know that Susan Johnson had originally named her character ‘Susan’ but her editor convinced her to change it at the very last minute.

    As for my thoughts on the last third of the novel, I was pretty grossed out by the ‘twist’ at the end. I do know of families who have shared this same experience, and honestly, I just find it weird. Not to be closed-minded or anything, but aren’t some relationships just out-of-bounds?! I think of my own family and I just couldn’t imag…..ugh.

    My favourite part of the My Hundred Lovers experience (apart from conversing with you lovely people) was absorbing Susan Johnson’s fragrant prose. Her ability to capture a moment, a feeling, an intimacy, or a sentiment is truly masterful. She writes with a poetic wistfulness which enchanted and delighted me. I loved her courage in studying something so daring as love, sex, and sensuality. I enjoyed this book immensely and was thrilled to be a part of this read-a-long. Thank you all for allowing me to take part, thanks again to Bree for doing such an admirable job as host, and thanks to Susan Johnson for giving us such a gritty book to digest and savour. Apologies again that I didn’t participate more regularly, but I look forward to taking part in the next one.

    All the best,

  15. […] had the pleasure of reading Susan Johnson’s My Hundred Lovers as part of the Allen and Unwin readalong. After the readalong, I went back and reread the book from a completely different perspective and I […]

  16. […] My Hundred Lovers, by Susan Johnson (Discussion – Parts One, Two and Three) […]

  17. […] following this link you will see other bloggers’ comments as well as a list of questions put forth by the host, […]

  18. […] following this link you will see other bloggers’ comments as well as a list of questions put forth by the host, […]

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