I have to admit that some of the allure about Claudine is the mystery surrounding the author. Barbara Palmer is a pseudonym and chosen by the author because she wished to distinguish Claudine from her famous body of work. She chose Barbara Palmer after a famous English courtesan who was the mistress and confidant of King Charles II. Her decision also seems to be a nod towards the traditional use of pseudonyms by classic erotica authors.
Otherwise, we are simply left with this description of her: …“a bestselling, international award-winning Canadian novelist whose work has been published in many countries.”
I’m going to go out on a limb and say I think it is Margaret Atwood.
* CONTAINS SPOILERS
By day, Maria Lantos is a pretty and intelligent grad student working on her erotic literature thesis at Yale. But away from campus, she transforms into the glamourous call girl known as Claudine, jet-setting around the world to satisfy the sexual appetites of her clients. The keepers of her secret include her gruff business manager/bodyguard, Andrei, and petite stylist, Lillian. Both are fiercely loyal to Claudine and to helping to protect her identity. However, Claudine’s tragic past as a Romanian orphan comes back to haunt her when the body of a prostitute that looks like her turns up, the police begin poking into her affairs and worst of all, she begins to receive anonymous threats by text. Claudine is troubled by this disruption to her life, but she refuses to let anything get in the way of her dreams. She continues her double life and even allows a handsome professor at the university to woo her. Claudine is determined to have it all, but at what cost?
Like all good erotica or romance novels, Claudine is pure escapism. The story provides a tantalizing and richly detailed look into the life of a high-class courtesan as she travels to exotic destinations, parties with the stinking rich and engages in (many many) sexual acts that will make you go “hmm”. Men and women can’t get enough of Claudine and vicariously experiencing their insatiable desire for this woman certainly made for a sizzling reading experience.
Claudine is dedicated to author, Joseph Kessel, and his novel, Belle du Jour, which is about a happily married, but sexually frustrated housewife named Séverine who joins a brothel and gets to act out her deepest fantasies. In comparison, I can’t help thinking of how the dramatic tension of how and when Séverine’s secret will be discovered is missing from Claudine’s story. Since almost everyone, including her mother, knows that she is a call girl, Claudine doesn’t have much to lose so what does it matter? Also, while Séverine enters the dangerous world of prostitution to seek sexual fulfillment, Claudine is driven by a need for power over men and, of course, the all-mighty dollar. She becomes less of a sympathetic character when you know she hopes to fornicate her way to fortune.
While Claudine is full of sexually explicit scenes, there are plenty of tender moments for romantics too. For someone who is worshipped by countless men, I liked that Maria/Claudine realized in the end that she wanted to be loved by one person who was special to her. In her National Post article about the history of erotic novels, Barbara Palmer discusses how women both in the past and in the present flock to erotic romance to get some much needed stimulation in our monotonous sexual and emotional lives. Readers certainly can’t avoid being stimulated when reading Claudine, but the experience also includes the pleasure of falling in love.
NOTE: I received a review copy of Claudine thanks to Penguin Canada, but this in no way influenced the thoughts and opinions expressed in my review.
What are your thoughts on erotic romance novels?