Sophie Mackintosh recommends 6 books about desire
In Sophie Mackintosh's new novel, Blue Ticket, the protagonist resists the results of a lottery that determines whether a young woman will become a mother or have a career. Below, the author of The Water Cure recommends six books about desire.
Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill (1988).
In Gaitskill's debut short-story collection, desire is rarely simple. Power dynamics, infidelities, and soured friendships are precisely dissected and observed. Each story is a microcosm, while Bad Behavior as a whole is both wincingly ruthless and very fun to read.
Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin (1956).
A slim, devastating novel about a young American in Paris who falls into a doomed affair with an Italian bartender. The prose is impossibly elegant and the narrative as claustrophobic as Giovanni's room, in which the two men find temporary escape from the rest of the world and its expectations, but not from tragedy.
Permission by Saskia Vogel (2019).
Echo is grieving a recent death and engaging in a series of sexual encounters in L.A. when she falls for Orly, a dominatrix who lives with a submissive "houseboy" known as Piggy. Through the three characters, Permission explores questions of connection and loneliness with tenderness. It illustrates the redemptive potential in desire and in expanding our understanding of and honesty about it.
The Vegetarian by Han Kang (2007).
A woman stops eating meat and starts experiencing strange dreams, and her family attempts to make sense of this. While her husband shows contempt, her brother-in-law descends into sexual obsession. The images of the novel are violently arresting, from the woman's blood-soaked visions to two naked bodies entwined and painted with flowers.
In the Cut by Susanna Moore (1995).
Frannie is an English teacher with a mysterious past and a fascination with slang. One evening she sees a woman in the basement of a bar performing a sex act on a man with a distinctive tattoo; when the woman is murdered, Frannie finds herself drawn into a dangerous world. Moore's novel subverts thriller conventions and, in centering Frannie's complex sexual agency, is authentically erotic.
Sweet Days of Discipline by Fleur Jaeggy (1989).
At a Swiss boarding school, a teenage girl obsesses over the enigmatic Frédérique, a fellow pupil. The pressure cooker of boarding school is a perfect environment for an infatuation, an infatuation belied by the ice-cold prose that conveys the narrator's fluctuating designs and feelings.