When I was a preteen at an all-girls Catholic school in Singapore (blue pinafores and rampant lesbianism included), my friend Stephanie and I used to get off to trashy romance novels. Stephanie lived in a Housing Development Board flat, which is Singapore-speak for the hood. Her mom was married to this skinny, pale dude with random tufts of body hair and pockmark-ridden cheeks. Stephanie’s mom, when she wasn’t at a church fundraiser, would pad around the house in her pink nightgown, mass consuming Harlequin romances like they were benzos.
Stephanie and I were obsessed with these books. We’d secretly read them in the bathroom, clenching our thighs while getting super horny before ducking out to finish our math homework. Titillating titles like Rising Darkness and Road to Ruin set me up for unfulfilling relationships long before I graduated to Sex and the City.
Last week at the bookstore, a lilac-bound novel called Tempt Me At Twilight caught my eye. It had a little tagline that read “The hour of seduction is drawing near…” That ellipsis, so effective in its subtle suggestion of S-E-X, was followed by a caption in the book’s inner jacket: “but will she give in to the ultimate temptation?” This juicy invitation was speaking to me. I decided to jettison the pseudo-intellectual shit in my hands and be Seduced till Sunlight and Moaning till Midnight. I needed to find out if, ten years after my first dalliances in cliterature, these sultry paperbacks could still work their sweet magic.
Tempt Me At Twilight falls under the “historical” category of romance novels. Which means it rips off everything written by the Bronte sisters. Middle-aged women in unhappy marriages can project their fantasies onto the protagonist, Poppy Hathaway, a gorgeous (duh) 19-year-old whose quirky intellect ostracizes her from the lamestream society around her.
The plot’s as predictable as a period: Poppy’s in love with some super-rich scion who dumps her at a ball. Her headstrong-heroine tendencies quickly crumble into tearful vulnerability. Enter Harry—an enigmatic entrepreneur with a voice that’s “soft, dark, like smoked honey.” He’s the bad boy archetype begging to be tamed, and he definitely has a big peen.
Harry and Poppy are caught making out and are forced to marry. This sets up their morally-ambiguous wedding night: Harry’s super horny for her “resisting ring,” but Poppy’s still heartbroken over her ex-paramour and refuses to comply. The halfway-rape scene is actually pretty hot. She feigns indifference as Harry fingers her while “tracing her aureole with his tongue.” Even when she comes, like a million times, her fists remain tightly clenched at her side. Her brain refuses to acknowledge that her vag is totally DTF.
I guess Poppy’s unwillingness to take Harry's load until he learns to respect her is supposed to give her character credibility, but all the non-sex scenes are cloyingly cutesy and borderline unreadable.
Finally, the book reaches its climax: Poppy is ready to have her cherry popped, but Harry can’t perform when he sees how much it hurts her (because he LOVES her, gettit?). He goes out and gets wasted in the local taverns, while Poppy, hurt and confused, runs home, where she finds out from her ex-nurse (who turns out to be Harry’s half-sister, WTF?) that Harry was abused as a child. His loneliness masks his inner pain! Obviously Poppy runs back so they can finally make sweet, passionate love, which Harry performs with much aplomb—“lingering where it pleased her, pressing deeper when she lifted, every slow plunge tamping more sensation inside her.”
The next morning, Poppy is pregnant (obviously).
Rating: 3/5. Steamy sex scenes win extra points because Harry is a dirty talker of Weiner-level pedigree. Even though this succeeded in concurrently making me laugh and become horny, the randomly interspersed “political” dialogue and god-awful puns disqualify the book from actual enjoyment.