During the pandemic lockdowns in the world’s most locked-down city, I made a survey of the reading habits of friends and acquaintances. While nineteenth-century classics were popular – Austen and Dickens were favourites, Tolstoy too, and Middlemarch – realist fiction, in general, dominated the reading choices. Among Australian writers were Christina Stead, Jessica Anderson, and Heather Rose. Other contemporary writers included Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Patrick Gale. One friend read umpteen novels from the Indian subcontinent; it was, she said, her best travel option given the circumstances. Another friend decided to read all of Bellow; he wanted, he said, to discover what everyone had been raving about. At a time when our own life stories were severely curtailed, there was a surge towards the big stories of others.
In the prologue to her first book, Three Women (2019), a work of non-fiction exploring the structures and expressions of desire, Lisa Taddeo writes that she had not initially intended to focus on women. ‘I thought I’d be drawn to the stories of men. Their yearnings. The way they could overturn an empire for a girl on bended knee.’ It was not until she began interviewing her subjects that she noticed that, while the stories of men all seemed to adhere to the same pattern, women’s stories were tantalisingly oblique; when a woman spoke of desiring a man, it was almost never (or never just) the man himself that she wanted. At first, the question that Three Women poses is: Why do these women desire the men that they do? But the further Taddeo delves inside the lives of her case studies (Maggie, the abused teenager; Lina, the woman in a loveless marriage; Sloane, the pariah of her community), the more the question becomes: Why, after everything that men have done to them, do women continue to desire men at all?
The worldwide women’s marches of January 2017 were sparked by the election of Donald Trump, a self-proclaimed ‘pussy-grabber’, to the US presidency in November 2016. Among the millions who marched was movie producer Harvey Weinstein. As with Trump, rumours of inappropriate behaviour with women had long plagued Weinstein, but he also had a history of aligning himself with feminist causes. He had supported Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential bid and, as co-founder of Miramax, had helped launch the successful careers of many women, including Oscar-winner Gwyneth Paltrow.
Lina. Maggie. Sloane. These are the women – real women, albeit with their names changed – in whose intimate lives Lisa Taddeo invested eight years of her own. She spoke to these women daily, uprooting herself to chronicle and share their worlds. Taddeo’s goal was to reveal the hidden desires and erotic longings of women ...