My Hundred Glorious Phrases – review My Hundred Lovers

I love Susan Johnson. Sorry, I haven’t started batting for the other team. Let me qualify. I love Susan Johnson’s writing.

It took three library borrows to find the time to read this book and now that I have it’s on my list of books to own. I consumed My Hundred Lovers with a passion I usually reserve for expensive wine. Aside from the delicious poetry of her writing, Johnson had a way of delivering this story that made it read like a degustation menu. Each chapter was served like a delectable morsel with its own particular flavour within a broader and very satisfying narrative.

The premise of the story is a woman turning 50 reflecting back over her experiences of love, or what she thought was love, throughout her life. While the work is rich with eroticism, it’s no romance. This is an exploration of what it feels like when love, and it’s elusive sisters, beauty and sensuality, come to visit.

Johnson’s mastery of erotic language transforms ordinary things – grass, sunshine, a bridge – into living entities, imbuing them with a soul and memory of their own. Each chapter describes an experience of love, often erotic love, of men, women, buildings, history, family, words, bodies, cities, wine, cigarettes and her son. The story of a woman’s ordinary life unfolds in the context of extraordinary history – from the 1960’s to present day – placing her ancestral history within the bigger political and social movements of each decade.

Interwoven in the narrative a kernels of life truths that rang so true I copied many of them down:
‘I was born preferring death to surrender.’
‘…love was supposed to mean desiring the happiness of the lover as much as one desired it for oneself…let the lover be himself or herself, unopposed!’
‘Love lives in the body and when love dies the body is the first to know.’

There was more to my love of this book than just the writing. I related to the story being told through the experiences of the protagonist on a very personal level. It was one of those reading experiences littered with ‘ah-huh’ moments. I felt Johnson was able to beautifully articulate the impulsive confusion of desire that ignites most love affairs – especially the bad ones. The sense many of us get at a certain age that we a ‘destined to live out life within the poor confines of unwitting compulsions.’ And the point (which I am quickly approaching) when we realise we must live with the consequences of these compulsive decisions, the poor choices of lovers in whatever form they came, and the inevitable truth that the heat of youth is cooling in our veins.

The ending seemed particularly poignant to me. She (the protagonist) identifies that her true love has always been romantic love, and that it will ever be unrequited because it ‘naturally and properly never gave me what it promised’. Given much of the content of my own work focuses on unrequited love, this admission resonated strongly with me. Our obsession with romantic love, our unending belief in soulmates and love at first sight, renders us children in the face of real love. While we believe in such fantasies we keep ourselves forever in desire (a not unpleasant place to be for some) and never able to recognise the very ordinary nature of love when it comes our way.

My Hundred Lovers has to be my favourite book for this year. In the words of Molly Meldrum, do yourself a favour.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Announcement of the Kibble and Dobbie Awards longlist | Australian Women Writers Challenge
  2. residentjudge
    Feb 01, 2013 @ 13:27:38

    Just finished reading this book this week, and I remembered that you’d read it. I was interested to see what you had said about it, given your own writing interests. I liked (and strongly agree with) your observation in the second last paragraph of your review about the distorting effect of an obsession with soulmates, love at first sight and romantic love. Good review.


    • Kate Rizzetti
      Feb 03, 2013 @ 18:53:54

      Thanks Janine. This book fed my soul in a way a lot of erotically themed books don’t. It was just so wide reaching across what we can fall in love with, and the commonality of that experience. Glad you enjoyed it too.


  3. moondayreiki
    Nov 29, 2012 @ 15:05:36

    You convinced me without a doubt. Will read soon. Thank you for the inspiration. Love, Aimee


  4. Dina
    Nov 28, 2012 @ 05:51:47

    Brilliant post Katie…


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