How long?

Hilary Mantel

  • The Literary Companion to Sex: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry edited by Fiona Pitt-Kethley
    Sinclair-Stevenson, 415 pp, £18.00, February 1992, ISBN 1 85619 127 3
  • The Love Quest: A Sexual Odyssey by Anne Cumming
    Peter Owen, 200 pp, £15.50, November 1991, ISBN 0 7206 0835 X

Fiona Pitt-Kethley’s favourite novel is a 16th-century Chinese work called Chin P’ing Mei. This book, she believes, was written as an act of vengeance. The author imbued each of the 1600 pages of his manuscript with poison, and presented it to a politician against whom he had a grudge. He knew that the minister, who had a huge appetite for pornography, would lick and turn each page, and so do himself to death. The 415 pages of this anthology won’t kill you – nor will you go blind – but you may from time to time feel queasy. An anthology of sex is something of a bathhouse, back-alley enterprise. Here are passages without antecedent or consequence, brief, sometimes anonymous; sometimes gratifying enough, in a casual sort of way.

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