01:47, Jun 21 2011


Leigh Marsden

Penguin, $30

It's not hard to see why Penguin has called this book the most sexually explicit they have ever published in New Zealand. Scarlet is certainly packed with sex – and most of it really is sex, not "making love", for those who believe there is a difference. The acts are very descriptive, leaving little to the imagination.

It's the explicitness of the words that holds this book together; without it, Scarlet wouldn't have any power over the reader. You start to feel guilty and ashamed for reading – and thinking – about the words, but at the same time you realise that if no feelings were there, it'd be a sign of a lousy book.

The story follows George Scarlet, a 28-year-old woman living in Auckland, and her sexual adventures both with and without her closest friend, Cass.


As Marsden has said, Scarlet is not porn, but there are moments where you might think it comes close. There are aspects that will excite you, worry you and disgust you. It will leave you wondering about whether this sort of thing really does happen in Auckland, or in any New Zealand town.

It's a chance to explore the seedy world of those who put out a little too much, without having to go through the ups and downs yourself.

The story also weaves in more serious issues, from George's troubled childhood to getting caught up with the wrong crowd.

The sexual acts are intertwined with flashbacks that help the reader understand why George does what she does. As the book delves into her past, it is not hard to see why George is so, well, generous with her body.

It shows that sometimes what seems simple on the surface can actually be just that – the surface. It also reminds the reader of how much something in your past can affect your future.

This spicy work of fiction is a compelling read for any woman, but a book that men will be able to enjoy just as much.

It's a fantastic contemporary novel that this reviewer recommends adding to your bookshelf, but only if you're not too shy.