Jillian Keenan’s memoir on Shakespeare, love, and spanking: a review
Before I began reading, I knew Jillian Keenan’s Sex with Shakespeare (Harper Collins) was a memoir about kink (in this case a spanking fetish), that the author has Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and that she had interwoven her story with interpretations and reflections on the writings of Shakespeare. As a sexologist, kinkster and graduate of English Literature, how could I not enjoy this?
Yet part of me was sceptical. Despite the book’s preamble singing Keenan’s praises, I wondered, was this going to be yet another puffed up attempt at kink-erotica, another rant about sex and disability, and how would Shakespeare fit into the story?
What I discovered was a literary masterpiece that explores the complexity and nuance of sexual desire within relationships. Keenan illustrates the difference between a kink and a fetish precisely and experientially and portrays the suffocating silence of not having your sexual needs fulfilled. More importantly, Keenan exposes the depths of shame we hold in our sexual psyches, the intimacy and internal conflict we carry when facing (or avoiding) our deepest eroticism, and how we navigate and (fail to) communicate desire in relationships.
We share Keenan’s journey through a succession of relationships, functional and dysfunctional. Keenan divulges her insecurities, her flaws and failings, her mistakes along the road to owning her sexuality. She holds a mirror to each of us when we project a hidden desire onto another, when through embarrassment, fear or shame we force a lover to hold our cravings for us, and then blame them for what we cannot admit to ourselves.
With curious originality, Keenan weaves her re-imagining of the works and characters of Shakespeare throughout the narrative. She brings the characters and themes of Shakespeare’s work to life in a way that makes Shakespeare globally relevant and universally accessible, offering original insights into human nature, domination, submission, sadomasochism, and the dynamics of power.
Keenan also turns conventional theories about the development of fetishes on their head. When Keenan’s mother spanked her as a child, she tells us this did not cause Keenan to develop a spanking fetish; rather when her mother spanked her, she forced Keenan to endure something she otherwise would have experienced as a sexual act, inflicted non-consensually, and as punishment: a form of childhood sexual abuse.
I absolutely adored this book and found myself reading passages aloud to my partner, torn between rushing ahead and holding off to make the experience last. Keenan’s story juxtaposes darkness and light, vulnerability and humour. Her story is not just for kinksters, fetishists, and people who live the lifestyle; this is a story for everyone.