Title: Story of O
Author: Pauline Réage
POV: Third person
Published: March 26th 2013 (first published 1954)
Story of O begins with the protagonist, only known as “O,” being trained as a submissive at the request of her then lover. Consenting to his wishes, O’s life changes as she learns about her deep needs in regard to love, freedom and submission. Treated as a possession, O finds pleasure in pain and the concept of feeling owned.
“And yes, by the way: while it is perfectly all right for you to grow accustomed to being whipped—since you are going to be every day throughout your stay—this is less for our pleasure than for your enlightenment.”
As the story progresses, O transitions from simply wanting to please and obey her lover to wanting the peace and satisfaction she finds from being enslaved. But as O seems to find the man who can control her mind and body, and she goes to extremes to ensure his love, she remains on a precipice of uncertainty. The question remains whether O found solace in her ultimate submission or if her sacrifice was based on misunderstood affection.
“Would she ever dare tell him that no pleasure, no joy, no figment of her imagination could ever compete with the happiness she felt at the way he used her with such utter freedom, at the notion that he could do anything with her, that there was no limit, no restriction in the manner with which, on her body, he might search for pleasure?”
Told from a narrator’s perspective, the plot is divided into four parts, with each signifying O’s progression into debasement. Originally published in 1954 and in French, there is debate about the quality of translations; however, the third person POV is quite detached, flowery and verbose which left me feeling unattached to O until practically the last twenty percent of the book. Though I had suspicions how O’s story would end, I didn’t expect the abruptness or the suppressed alternate endings. While I could potentially deal with all three possibilities, why not publish as the author intended and ground the story with a proper finale.
As for other characters, the men remained aloof, entitled and selfish. The sole standout character was Ann-Marie because she thrust herself into this world by choice and dictated her own terms. In comparison, it seems O came to a certain acceptance at the end but being led was still part of her needs.
Ultimately, Story of O didn’t work for me and it wasn’t due to the subject matter but rather the narrative feeling choppy and incomplete.