Beyond ‘Whip Lit’

Intense chemistry; crumbling defences; tormented interiors; dark pleasures: will this add up to an irresistible love story? Christine Fears reviews Nichi Hodgson's Bound to You

The explosion of ‘whip lit’ out of our bedrooms and into our bestseller lists over the previous year is one of which ER readers will be well aware. I promised I would not mention the new ‘F’ word when reviewing this book, but since the enigmatic Mr Christian Grey is referenced on the front cover of Nichi Hodgson’s bondage-bildungsroman, I feel myself excused.

I am ashamed to admit that I have yet to experience the delights or otherwise of EL James’s eponymous anti-hero, but I am happy to report that this novel grabbed my interest in the wake of the predictable tidal wave of imitators flooding the shelves. Bound to You is the first book from the arrestingly youthful Miss Hodgson, and despite a few rough edges, manages to confound the expectations of the reader to produce a solid story, an appealingly bright and intelligent narrative voice, and a little bit of genre bending for good measure.

To call Bound an erotic autobiography is misleading. There is certainly rumpy-pumpy a plenty between these pages, but the focus of the narrative is on the heroine’s emotional transformation rather than on providing cheap thrills for the reader. Nichi is not simply a cut-out of a naughty girl simpering for a whipping, and nor is Sebastian a dominating machine defined by the size of his billions (he’s actually a jobbing artist). The book’s exploration of the fluidity of dom/sub roles in sex work, relationships, and at this edgier end of the confessional chick-lit genre is carefully crafted.

While marketed by Hodder squarely at a chick-lit-with-whips readership (there is as much lusting over outfits as tight-bodied men to be found here), Bound to You equally taps into tales of personal growth and development. We remain party to Nichi’s thoughts as she navigates the world outside the safe boundaries of her university town and idyllic first relationship, and follow each step she takes from her first heartbreak to the post-Sebastian world – the book treads the line where Emma meets Emmanuelle.

The element of Bound least developed is that of our ‘real life Christian Grey’, Sebastian. Next to Nichi’s bubbling enthusiasm and wordy interest in the world, artist Sebastian’s stern commanding eyes and smouldering good looks never quite become three dimensional. This cavity of character finally strikes Nichi as they embrace: ‘I am kissing a tin man…it was like making love to a mannequin’. To write an emotionally hollow and elusive character as the crux of the narrator’s awakening into a world of adult sexual relationships was a tricky task for Hodgson to set herself, and occasionally Sebastian’s appeal is more mysterious than the character himself.

Overall though, Bound to You is a welt-mark above the majority of books which have been marketed to the Fifty Shades fan, and will make an elegant edition to any discerning woman’s top shelf.

Bound to You – Nichi Hodgson; Hodder; paperback; ISBN 978-1-444-76327-0; 281pp; RRP £7.99 Kindle edition £4.99