I have a liking for stories that go places where most authors fear to tread. If the author is insightful and courageous, you end up with fiction that tells the truth about life. My last outing into this territory was Stephen King’s Rage, a tale about a student who holds his classmates at gunpoint. Emily Maguire’s Taming the Beast is a story about another school-related taboo: the forbidden sexual relationship between teacher and student.
Sarah Clark is a fourteen-year-old girl who feels like a bit of a misfit; her English teacher, Daniel Carr, is thirty-eight and is married with a daughter. Recognising Sarah’s intelligence, he pays her special attention, loaning her books. They spend lunch-times together, having private discussions, alone in his classroom. Then one day he makes a move on her, and she accepts. A passionate secret love affair develops, where they both can’t get enough of each other. On Mr. Carr’s side, there is a lot of conflicting emotion: the fear of Sarah’s naivety getting them caught, the guilt over what they are doing, the fear of losing his wife and daughter. Disturbingly, the sexual relationship between Daniel and Sarah becomes violent at times, but they both seem addicted to each other regardless. Central to the book’s theme is the metaphor of “the beast with two backs” – when two people become like one organism, and cannot be satisfied when apart, no matter how badly they treat each other. Recognising the destructive nature of their relationship, Mr Carr breaks it off, resigns from his job, and moves himself and his family to another town far away. Sarah is heartbroken.
All this takes place in a few chapters at the beginning of the book. The majority of the story concerns Sarah in her early twenties. She has become excessively sexually promiscuous, having hundreds of previous lovers in an attempt to recapture what she lost with Daniel. But no one will do. Then, out of nowhere, he reappears in her life, divorced and available. And both of them still want each other. This time the relationship becomes even more destructive and violent than before. But the two seem powerless to resist. Caught in the crossfire is Sarah’s longsuffering best friend Jamie, who has been besotted with Sarah since she was a girl.
What I got from this book was a portrait of a completely self-absorbed woman – one whose view of sex is intirely about me, me, me. Everyone exists to serve her. She even seduces Jamie, despite the fact that he is a husband and father. All around her is the emotional wreckage of the people she has vampirically drained. And central to her “psychosis” is that age-old bullshit story of finding “The One” – the idea that there’s one special person you’re meant to be with and no one else will do, and to be alone is to be incomplete. The thing is, what I’m seeing in the story is not what the author intended. By all appearances, the author defends the idea of finding The One. She just wants to replace the romantic stereotype of this age-old tale with something raw and animalistic. Frankly, I’m not convinced. In the real world, people enter sexual relationships, and for a while it’s exciting, even obsessional, but after time the sex becomes familiar. Love isn’t this monstrous thing that drains so much from people that it almost kills them. What planet are you on, Maguire?
The genuine insight of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is absent here. All I see is a piece of pretentious melodrama with added shock value. This was the story of a self-absorbed little tart with delusions of profundity. Emily Maguire attempts to out-Nabokov Nabokov, but hasn’t got what it takes.