Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Review: Taming the Beast by Emily Maguire

Taming the Beast by Emily Maguire
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publication Date: September 19, 2006
Source Format: Library book!
Page Count: 317.

When Sarah Clarke is 14, she is seduced by her English teacher, Mr. Carr after class. What starts is a passionate, intense, and illegal love affair that Sarah feels bonds her to Mr. Carr. But when Mr. Carr's wife discovers their relationship, he decides to leave the school, and Sarah, to work on his family life. She spends the years after burning through hundreds of men, searching for a man to fit the Mr. Carr shaped hole that was left behind when he 'abandons' her. Of all of the men, one has remained constant: her friend, Jamie, and when Mr. Carr reappears, it is she who must decide between the man who abandoned her, and the one who has been there all along.

**Taming the Beast contains very mature content, and so may this review!**

Whatever she did, she was determined to not live up to anyone else's expectations. These expectations were, depending who you asked, that she would fall pregnant and live off welfare; that she would become the pampered mistress of some old but rich businessman; that her heavy drinking would tip into full blown alcoholism and she would die in a gutter clutching an empty metho bottle...

Sarah is about as damaged as they come when it comes to leading female characters. She is easily sucked into the abusive and erotic world that is Mr. Carr and puts up little effort to crawl out of it, even when he 'lovingly' leaves her bruised and pleading for him to stay. The two of them, to her, create the beast with two backs: ugly and roaring, but unable to live without the other half. She is also very book smart, partially because she loves to read classics, and partially because part of her escapades with Mr. Carr involve constant repetition of Shakespeare and other Great authors. She becomes a true victim of abuse, because even though the reader and Sarah know very little about Mr. Carr, she cannot move past him. 

Sarah knew that voice. Knew it because it had been echoing in her head for eight long years. Knew it because it was the goddamn soundtrack to her life. It sounded like blood rushing in her ears. No, that was real, the blood rushing, pulse slamming, heart thumping. All those sounds were real, and incredibly, so was his voice. 

While reading Taming the Beast, I was actually reminded of the Marilyn Monroe quote, "if you can't handle me at my worst, you don't deserve me at my best." Or something like that. We certainly see Sarah at her worst, and instead of hating her for the sometimes despicable things she does, we sympathize with her and wait for her to crawl out of her slump and make her life better. Maguire also expertly manipulated her characters so we also see them at their best and worst. Except Mr. Carr. We always hate Mr. Carr, which pushes us as readers further to wait for Sarah to leave him in the dust. When he comes back into her life, he comes back with a wild new vengeance, further twisting her life into something that is harder and harder to bounce back from. Then there is Jamie, sweet Jamie, her best friend from childhood who is the only one to fully understand her and knows the intricacies of her relationship and attachment to Mr. Carr. He is a beautiful constant in Sarah's life, and a well-rounded secondary character that we also love and empathize with.

And reading this way--with no deadline, no agenda--she remembered why she loved literature so much.  It was like fucking a new man and knowing that he had made other women come, but that when she came it would be an unshareable, untranslatable pleasure. She opened herself up to her books, and the words got inside her and fucked her senseless. 

I always get nervous going into books that are touted for being erotic and intense. I feel like I am walking myself into a Fifty Shades of Grey hole of sorts, and expect poorly written, useless sex. I was immediately impressed with how Maguire handled the loads of sex that happens in Taming the Beast. The reader is able to see the sex between Mr. Carr and Sarah for what it is, even when she can't: abusive and one-sided. However, the sex between her and Jamie is tender and what she should have been desiring all along. The way Maguire built up all of the relationships in this novel created different feelings for the sex that they have, and each encounter is beautifully written, regardless of how soft or ugly it is. 

As beautifully written as Taming the Beast is, and as intense as the character relationships are, I would have liked to see more of a change in Sarah, or at least for her to catch some sort of positive break. Reading this book is like having a little black cloud trailing behind you up until the last page, when we finally start to see a little ray of sunshine. 

This novel was dark, dramatic, beautifully written, and filled with sometimes romantic and sometimes dirty sexual encounters. The characters were empathetic, lovable, and hateable, and the relationships between them were wildly intense, which made this a rollercoaster of a read full of crazy feels.

Rating: 4 / 5 

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