A woman disappears, leaving no trace except her car at the edge of her cliff; she’s written off as a suicide. In the months that follow, her mother discovers a secret manuscript that her daughter wrote and is convinced that it sheds some insight into her daughter’s disappearance: that manuscript is The Bride Stripped Bare.
And that’s all in the first two pages. The rest of Nikki Gemmell’s book is comprised of the actual manuscript of The Bride Stripped Bare. The chapters are labeled as a series of lessons that read like a diary. It begins with a couple on a honeymoon; the narrator has had her share of lovers, but none know her as intimately as her new husband, Cole. Still, she has secrets that even he doesn’t know about.
By all outward appearances, the narrator is a picture-perfect good wife. She’s given up her teaching job and now stays at home; soon, she expects they’ll start a family. Cole brings in enough money for her to do as she pleases, and she spends her days working on turning a scandalous Elizabethan-era diary that’s been passed down in her family into a novel. But the doldrums of married life are weighing on her. It’s a chillier marriage than the one she’d envisioned, and her thoughts keeps straying to past lovers. The book she’s working on doesn’t help: the Elizabethan woman who penned it was vocal about her desires. It isn’t long until the narrator begins flirting with her own desires in the form of a handsome stranger named Gabriel.
The plot itself might not be the most realistic, but I think Gemmell handles the subjects of sex and female fantasy/desire in an honest way. For instance, she shows, through the narrator’s actions, the distinctions between entertaining certain fantasies (dirty, violent, romantic, whatever) in one’s head and entertaining those same fantasies in reality — it’s definitely not the same thing, physically or emotionally. The narrator is dreaming up or acting upon those fantasies to fill the void in her life. Her reality is that she gave up her job and is now dependent on her husband for everything. The lust she once had for her husband is gone (for good reason, I would argue, but gone nonetheless). She’s stuck but she still has needs, and in filling these needs, she feels empowered.
Unfortunate 50 Shades of Grey-ification of the cover aside, I enjoyed this book. It unfurls slowly, but it’s impossible to put down (no, really: I read 200 pages in one sitting). It was originally released in 2003 and became an international best seller, and it’s easy to see why. If you’re looking for a well-written book with some steamy scenes in it — The Bride Stripped Bare isn’t straight-up erotica, but there is sex — put down that godawful Grey book and pick this one up instead.
The Bride Stripped Bare was reissued by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins, in 2012. It’s part of a trilogy, and the last part — I Take You — will be released December 31, 2013. All three books in the trilogy are on tour right now, so see what other bloggers are saying about them. Added bonus: the first two eBooks are on sale right now for $1.99 each.