The Pleasure Master
The Pleasure Master by Nina Bangs tries really hard to be an ooh la la sort of read. For me it was more of a ho hum read, all the more disappointing because of the good review she received at AAR for last year’s An Original Sin.
Kathy Bartlett is a modern-day New York hairdresser whose smart mouth hides her vulnerable interior. On Christmas Eve she finds herself broken down on the side of the road with nothing but a bag of toys she bought for a local shelter, including one hourglass-shaped toy with flashing lights whose function she doesn’t know. Because this toy seems to be all looks and no action, she names it Peter (after her ex-husband). She wishes aloud that she were in a warm place with a subservient man, and Peter, hearing this, sends her to the Scottish Highlands in 1549 to meet Ian Ross, a man who is not subservient at all.
Ian is the Pleasure Master, a man whose sexual prowess is so renowned that women from all over Britain come to experience him and to get sex advice. He considers being the Pleasure Master a sacred duty, and it has brought wealth and fame to his clan. But he has no friends, no one likes or trusts him, and he must never fall in love with one woman or he would no longer be the Pleasure Master. That there might be something lacking from this lifestyle never occurs to him.
When Kathy arrives, she is confused and scared, so Ian takes care of her. Ian immediately tells Kathy that she needs his services, and she informs him that her husband was never able to bring her to orgasm. (I cannot imagine having this conversation with someone I’d just met.) Kathy is appalled at Ian’s vocation – it reminds her much too much of her ex, who also claimed to be an expert at women’s pleasure, and who also slept with lots of women. Kathy has no intention of allowing yet another womanizing self-proclaimed expert touch her, regardless of how attractive he is.
Ian’s brothers then set up a challenge: he must seduce Kathy before they seduce women that he chooses for them, or he will lose the Pleasure Master title. So the race to seduce Kathy begins.
Page after page, Kathy lusts after Ian but resists. Meanwhile, Ian falls in love with Kathy but denies his feelings, because he doesn’t want to give up being the Pleasure Master. And Peter – that’s the magical toy – walks around and quotes lines from movies.
Although almost every page features descriptions of the characters’ longing for one another, I never felt my blood stir – not even in the very explicit consummation scene. That’s because these characters never came alive for me.
Ian is the best of the lot, although you’d think a guy clinging against all logic to the title of Pleasure Master would be a little improbable. He’s actually rather pitiable – a nice guy trapped in the body of a sex god. Kathy just got on my nerves. Her constant wise-cracking drove me crazy, especially when, nine times out of ten, no one around her understood the meaning of her jokes. “Hey, talk to your hairdresser and you’ll never need a shrink,” she says on page 188, even though by this time she must surely realize that Ian is not going to understand what a shrink is. It was supposed to be funny, but Ian says “What?” so many times it was beyond irritating. Kathy also starts dispensing Cosmo-like sex advice to women, even though by her own admission she’s hardly an expert on these matters.
Peter’s habit of speaking only in movie lines is also supposed to be funny, but I couldn’t figure out what the point was – aside from showing that the author has access to an extensive database of movie quotes.
For me, the humor fell flat, the sensuality wasn’t, and the entire story made no sense, because the characters were lifeless constructs rather than people I could believe in and care about.
The epilogue to this story reveals that it is linked to An Original Sin. Perhaps if I had read that earlier book, this one would have come alive for me, but I don’t think so. The Pleasure Master was not an unpleasant read. But although it tried so hard to be a sinfully delicious pleasure, at no point did I find myself enjoying it.