Folly will doubtlessly be sold on the sex angle alone: in the glut of post-Shades erotica, it is a shining example of female empowerment in a river of boring, submissive relationships. While there’s nothing new in erotica writing (the Fifty Shades trilogy is as unimaginative as it is derivative) it is something of a joy to see a book being set in South Africa with a female lead and with a dominatrix at its centre. But it also is about much more than just sex, you see.
Emma Caine’s life is hardly glamorous. She’s on the wrong side of forty, ten kilos too heavy with a physically disabled husband, mounting debt and a half-finished home. With the bank knocking on her door, she decides to use the experiences of her youth to open a sex dungeon and hopefully generate some income. Through it she meets the handsome Simon Nel, and as the blurb goes, is drawn into a twisted and potential doomed relationship. I didn’t think it was a particularly twisted relationship: there’s no abuse and while there are some untruths involved, it was more complicated than anything else. But hey, blurbs have to sell books after all.
Emma herself is the closest thing to an everywoman than I’ve read in a good while. She’s a woman in an abysmal situation and instead of crying and waiting for help, she bravely steps out of her comfort zone and finds a way to get back on her feet. She is a kind, funny and resourceful woman, and it makes a great change from the usual protagonists in erotica. She meets a variety of fantastic Joburg people, and it brought me such joy to see a book being set in Joburg instead of Cape Town. (No, really, I’d wager that most local books are set in Cape Town.) MacKenzie especially captures the tedious horror of the Sandton set, with their giant cars, privately-schooled children and whining about how ‘the girl’ dares to ask for more money. Yes, it is a book about sex, but it also very much about people, about South Africa, and relationships.
So, onto the juicy sex bits, then. There isn’t really anything that should shock anyone over the age of twenty with an open mind and an internet connection, but that isn’t to say that it isn’t well done. I’ll reiterate how vital it is that books explore alternative sexual identities with intelligence and understanding. Emma herself learns to see that submissive men aren’t weak and pitiful, and hopefully the reader will come to understand that a BDSM lifestyle is not the domain of sick, broken people. It is simply a form of sexual expression, and not a way for certain young businessmen to deal with their awful pasts.
I do wish the book had taken more time to explore Simon Nel, who is drawn in very broad strokes. Emma is obviously drawn in a great of detail, but Simon seems to be just too perfect. I would have liked the book to be longer – more detail about the BDSM lifestyle, more time spent with the lovely Thandeka and maybe a few more stories of Mistress Caine’s slaves. But in terms of a love story with some hot, decently written sex scenes, it definitely meets that particular market. And there’s nothing wrong with that: just by dint of having a strong female protagonist it already stands out in its genre.
Folly is an easy, charming and interesting read, and while it could have used more depth it still breaches new territory (at least in the local market). It has moments of sadness, of hilariously awkward situations and it resonates well, because even if the reader hasn’t been in Emma’s situation exactly, we’ve all been there in some way.