Review of Folly by Jassy MacKenzie

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.

Criticism of The Fifty Shades Trilogy: Smackdown Round-up

I refuse to accept that there are better things for me to do with my time than round up all the best criticism of Fifty Shades of Fail. I could be saving kittens from trees, probably. However, if I could I would use this post to raise money for all the women that end up in abusive relationships like the one described in Shades of Black and Blue. There are so many things awkwardly wrong with the Shades of Grey trilogy that it is almost obscenely delicious to kick it in the face, day after day after day. If this were a harmless, unknown book then perhaps it wouldn’t be quite so bad. But this horrendous crud must be outed for the dangerous shit it is, and nothing diminishes power faster than laughter. And GIFs.

Knowing that the fans who love it will never think otherwise, I have instead decided to share the best the internet has to offer the non-believers. Because the Shades trilogy has induced the kind of fanaticism the churches wish they still had, it is deserving of all the shame heaped upon it by the best and smartest of the internet. That this book has been considered uplifting for women is as offensive as it is misguided and therefore I am exonerated from any guilt.

Let’s start with the brilliant minds of Tiger Beatdown, best known for their criticism of the overrated Game of Thrones series. While they have not done an entire post revolving around Shades of Vomit, they do bring up a valid point: everything in Shades of Idiocy is cock-centric. It is not about Ana’s pleasure, or her growth or even learning to earn her orgasm, it is about the grating Grey and his penis enjoying all the fun times.

My issue with Fifty Shades of Grey is not that it is badly written, though. Neither is it that it once was a Twilight fanfiction onto which the author pressed “Control F” and then replaced the vampire and werewolf names with those of the current characters. I could easily overlook all of that if the prose was riveting. My issue with Fifty Shades of Grey is that it belongs to the tired, boring, overused sub genre I like to call “penis centric erotica”. Which is to say, practically the only kind of erotica marketed for cis, straight women.

It is a point that many people have missed. The post is available here, amongst many other gems.

Next stop, Jenny Trout. She has bravely, nobly and wryly undergone the torture of reading and recapping every chapter of the series so that we don’t have to. Her commentary is filled with some of the best one liners ever, but her reason for doing it is truly fantastic:

I was honestly almost too furious to continue reading this book once I got to this chapter. In fact, it was this chapter that led me to want to dissect the book piece by piece in the public eye. Because this shit is dangerous. This is dangerous the way I found Twilight dangerous in the last two books. It’s dangerous because it tells women, possibly young, innocent women who are just like Ana, that it’s okay for a man to treat you like garbage if he really, really loves you, or if you want him to really, really love you, you need to put up with it.

And then, add to that lines like this:

I think that if Ana were a real person, every time she opened her mouth to speak, it would just make a sad trombone noise. Every time.

For lines like this, you need to set aside five hours and read all the recaps.

Possibly the most famous is this gif-laden review on Goodreads by Katrina Passick Lumsden:

About halfway through, I wished I’d been keeping track of the word “crap” because Ana is constantly saying/thinking it. Crap, Holy Crap, Double and Triple Crap, Oh Crap, This Crap, That Crap, any and all Crap. Speaking of crap, if I ever, ever ever have to hear/read the words “inner goddess” again, I’m going to construct a pyre out of tampons and maxi pads, light it, and toss unsuspecting women into it.

From the second book:

It went from all-out rage-inducing (like the first book), to incomprehensible hilarity. I had thought the first line was good, but in comparison, lines like this are pure comedic gold:

“I want you, and the thought of anyone else having you is like a knife twisting in my dark soul.” 

Oh my, it’s my dream man. He’s crazy with a side of fries and he utters the worst romanticisms this side of a Nicholas Sparks novel.

And this about the third book:

The temerity of this character is astounding. E.L. James has managed to create one of the most blatantly antagonistic sociopaths I’ve ever seen, yet women everywhere are gobbling it up like he’s the best thing since the vibrator.

Good times with gifs, and a sublime summary of all that is wrong and hilarious.

Here are some quick links for your further amusement:

If you’d like something truly meaty and BA for your repetoire, add to it ‘Anti-Feminist Ideals in Fifty Shades of Grey‘. And to end on a genuinely serious note:


You can get the original here, and it pretty much sums up how dangerous this shit is.

JK Rowling, Pottermore and the Future

As far as moments in publishing go, the launch of Pottermore is massive. But what makes it momentous is that, for the first time in contemporary publishing, an author has dictated to the biggest names in book-retailing. To put not too fine a point on them, she has told Amazon, Apple and Barnes and Noble exactly where they can shove their DRM. That kind of authorial power is rare and truly magnificent in its scope.

The watermarking system of the Potter books is a much nicer approach to treating readers like trustworthy human beings rather than the Draconian (mm, puns) hammerlock of DRM. If the book is pirated, it can be traced. It’s probably more effort than its worth but at least Rowling is not treating her readers like criminals. I have discussed book piracy before, and my friends have offered superb links in the comments thread there, so this is an interesting and refreshing approach to DRM.

To be fair, there are maybe ten authors alive that could pull off something as big as this. My bet would be that if James Patterson, Danielle Steel, Jeff Kinney and that ilk decided to get their own online stores and sell their books directly, there’s not much outside a watertight publishing contact that could stop them. And big money means big lawyers to break those contracts. So where does that leave the humble bookseller? And publishers?

For booksellers, the doom and gloom is unnecessary. Most authors don’t have the wherewithal to be able to bypass the retail chain. Honestly, JK Rowling is a rock star amongst writers. The Telegraph shares these facts:

69 Different languages that the Harry Potter books have been published in.

400 million Copies estimated that the Potter books have sold worldwide. It is considered the fastest selling book of all time.

200 Countries in which the books have been published.

Her record-breaking sales and allure as an author gives her power that 99% of the world’s authors do not have. The reason self-publishing hasn’t been able to put a dent in the publishing world at large is because publishers still give authors a platform and help they would not have alone. (Selling your own books is much like door-to-door insurance selling. Thankless, tedious and with pitiful payoff.) Amanda Hocking and the untalented EL James of Fifty Shades notoriety are still the only examples of self-published authors gone big. Rowling had to start with a publisher. Now she has outpaced them and given something back to her incredibly loyal readers.

I like to see this momentous occasion as a wonderful snub to the big baddies in book retail. It is remarkable to see an author empowering her readers by treating them like people. The books are fairly priced at R90 and can be bought with South African credit cards. This is a great time for readers, and inspiring for other authors. No doubt, the publishing industry needs an overhaul. It still screws the authors, and the book retailers screw the buyers. This is a brave new world of author power; I can’t wait to see what happens from here.