Nikki Gemmell, Author . Fourth Estate $22.95 (374p) ISBN 978-0-00-716226-0

A series of diary entries charts the sinuous paths of marriage and sexual desire in this artful book, a bestseller in the U.K. The author of the entries, a nameless 30-something housewife, has disappeared, leaving behind what amounts to 138 "lessons," written in the second-person, for her fellow archetypal "good wives." At first, the gimmick is jarring, but as the protagonist's personality emerges and flowers, readers will be seduced by this sometimes subtle, sometimes overwrought novel set in modern-day London. At first, marriage equals safety to the woman ("it's a relief, to be honest, this surrendering..."), but the sex is humdrum, and Cole, her husband, is remote and fastidious—only oral sex offers a surefire way to orgasm and sometimes he'd just rather watch TV. To make matters worse, he may have engaged in an affair with her best childhood friend. Beginning work on her long-planned book might cheer her up—and so will an affair with lovely Gabriel, of the "cathedral-wide" chest and silky young skin. Thus she commences erotic adventures previously unimaginable. She also becomes pregnant, and the anonymous author is cannily perceptive about the vicissitudes of pregnancy and new motherhood; she writes strikingly of the surprising erotic passion, emotional upheaval and anger that can flare during pregnancy. This unusual but strangely compelling novel offers an intimate chronicle of change and self-discovery, of a woman who makes a final and unexpected choice. (Mar.)

Forecast: Gallons of ink have been spilled overseas about this one—most of it on the question of the author's anonymity (she's gone public there—or has been outed, depending on whom one asks). But there's little here that's shocking enough to justify the secrecy, so it's hard to imagine that there will be quite the same buzz stateside. The sex is explicit, but still rather tasteful.

Reviewed on: 03/01/2004
Release date: 03/01/2004
Paperback - 371 pages - 978-0-06-059188-5
Hardcover - 978-0-00-750832-7
Ebook - 400 pages - 978-0-06-219147-2
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