Every great city inspires great art, whether that’s painting, music or literature. Until now, however, no one has really thought to seriously extend that exploration of cityscapes and the people within them to erotica. Maxim Jakubowski is seeking to put that right with his Sex In The City line, published by Xcite and a clear attempt to fill the void in quality erotic writing which has been left by the demise of the various Virgin imprints. The first four cities to come under the spotlight are New York, Dublin, Paris and London.
Ideally, a collection like this should be in part a love letter – or even a Dear John – to the city in question. It should invoke the spirit of those films which make the setting an integral a part of the romance between the lovers involved. New York has Woody Allen’s classic Manhattan, or for the younger, hipper audience (and one which doesn’t mind the fact Michael Cera will only ever have one facial expression), Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Dublin has Once, Paris Before Sunset and London – well, London probably has something by Richard Curtis, but I’ve never been able to contemplate watching Notting Hill or Love, Actually. Films which set tales of love lost and love found against classic backdrops like St Stephen’s Green, the great sweep of Broadway and that bench on Primrose Hill which lets you look down over the whole West End skyline.
So does Sex In The City: London, the first release in the series, achieve this? To a large extent, yes. It has to be said there are a couple of stories among the dozen in the anthology in which the London setting is fairly coincidental. Francis Ann Kerr’s Monster is a sympathetically described account of a woman starting to spread her wings on the fetish scene, but though it takes place in the Torture Garden somewhere near Old Street it could well be a club in any number of cities. Lily Harlem’s The Champagne Whore features a woman picking up a client at the Grosvenor House Hotel, but the filthy encounter which follows comes with a twist ending that seasoned erotica readers have seen plenty of times before.
More intriguing are the stories with a stronger sense of place. The Soho backdrop of Kristina Lloyd’s The Caesar Club enables her to explore one of her favourite themes – the sleaziness below the surface of everyday life – in an unashamedly romantic account of a consensual kidnapping. Maxim himself, never one to shy away from exploring darkness and disappointment, uses Woke Up With The Hampstead Blues Again to examine the feeling so many Londoners have that you either belong north or south of the river, and that’s where you stay. Though he does chuck in a group of characters with a taste for gang-bangs along the way. Justine Elyot, in Thames Link, makes you feel the noise and dirt of summer in the city as Jane and the seedy lover she can’t keep away from have very public sex in Clerkenwell and Blackfriars.
Also worth mentioning are the quirky contributions from Matt Thorne and NJ Streitberger. Thorne’s What Are You Wearing? is an unusual take on the shapeshifter genre, with characters who are able to acquire the physical characteristics and sexual styles of other people simply by wearing clothing taken from luggage that’s been lost at Heathrow’s Terminal Five. In Streitberger’s The Girl On The Egyptian Escalator, Spencer falls instantly in lust with Sekhmet, a dominant beauty he meets in Harrods. She claims to be an expert in Egyptian antiquities, but her real identity is something much darker and deadlier…
As for my own contribution, Rain And Neon, it features the romance between a fortysomething waitress in a Soho snack bar and the young artist who wants to draw a nude portrait of her. I’m a great fan of seemingly mismatched couples finding true love (and spectacular sex), but the characters were also intended to represent the way Soho has changed over the last couple of decades.
One of the nice things about this collection is that the authors provide some background to their own story, as well as biographical details. Readers always like to know where writers find their inspiration, and these explanations add welcome depth to the reading of the story.
The Paris, Dublin and New York anthologies are out very soon, and further books are promised involving cities as diverse as Venice and Los Angeles, Barcelona and Edinburgh. Just make sure you find room for Amsterdam in there somewhere, Maxim – not that I need an excuse to write about the place!