Monday, June 16, 2014

I Watch You by Irene Cao

The Basics:
I Watch You by Irene Cao
RCS Libri/Rizzoli
Book One in the Italian Pleasures trilogy
Mainstream Lit
Published June 17, 2014
Source: Received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Why I picked up this book:

The title made me think about voyeurism, I liked the Italian spin....


What do you do when your greatest temptation is a dangerously handsome and alluring man?

Elena works as an art restorer in Venice, and is in the process of bringing an old fresco to light in a historic palazzo. Art is her world, along with her best friend, Gaia, and Filippo, an old pal who she thinks just might be her new love . . . until Leonardo comes along. A chef with a tempestuous spirit, Leonardo is in Venice to launch a new restaurant, and he pushes all of Elena’s buttons—good and bad. As Leonardo awakens Elena’s senses, she faces the difficult yet exciting choice between the safety Filippo promises and the danger of Leonardo’s embrace.

I Watch You is part one of a bestselling erotic trilogy that proves Italians definitely do it better.

My thoughts:

Perhaps there's a cultural barrier here that I couldn't surmount or maybe it's just that this book managed to hit on many of my own taboos but I found this book relentlessly unerotic. My expectation was that it was going to be erotica, and I suspect that coloured my impressions too heavily. I'm going to emphasize here that what follows is my opinion and mine alone - I'm confident that there are lots of people who will *love* this book. But as will become clear momentarily, I wasn't one of them.

Elena is a twenty-nine year old with some strong taboos about sex - mainly about self-love. That alone made me uncomfortable, but okay, she's not a virgin, just doesn't self-indulge. I can live with that. She's recently been reunited with a friend - Filippo with whom she's got a very strong friendship. And now it's starting to grow into something more... except he has to move to Rome, and Leonardo puts the moves on and.... Yeah.

So, the first sexual encounter takes place about a quarter of the way into the book and lasts for two brief pages. There's very little foreplay, very little description, and Elena's assertion that it was magical is hard to swallow.

The next encounter is much more aggressive and semi-out-of-the-blue, and it made me uncomfortable because though Elena and Filippo haven't laid out their relationship because of the sudden distance between them... I felt a lot like Elena was cheating by being with another man. Neither of these two encounters worked for me and since they were the sum of the erotic material in the first half of the book, I would have put this one back on the shelf if I'd been reading it for enjoyment rather than for a review.

Leonardo also makes me uncomfortable. He wants to push and break Elena's taboos, and he states that he's a hedonist, that he doesn't subscribe to morality but instead seeks out pleasure in all its forms. The problem for me is that he ignores and override's Elena's decisions, not only her sexual taboos but also personal choices that she's made - such as not drinking and not eating meat. Maybe this is supposed to be presented as opening her up to greater pleasure and possibility, but I found it kind of offensive, to be honest. I'm not a vegetarian or a teetotaller, but I cannot find a man sexy  who doesn't respect those life choices (even if he doesn't understand them). Granted, Elena maybe doesn't protest very hard when he encourages her to indulge, but... that didn't make it any less uncomfortable for me.

There are a host of other things in this vein that just rubbed me the wrong way. No references to safe sex, the emotional distance Leonardo insisted on while relentlessly pulling down Elena's walls, Leonardo's statement that she shouldn't expect him to be faithful.... I felt like Elena was settling for far too little by agreeing to Leonardo's terms and that made it hard for me to enjoy this one.

On the plus side, Venice makes for a gorgeous setting, and there's a lot in the book to appeal to all of the senses. The writing itself is quite good and it was easy to read from that perspective.

Bottom line:

Bluntly, if I hadn't signed up to review this one, I would have DNF'ed it. Unfortunately, it was not for me, there were too many elements that made me uncomfortable. I underline twice the title of my blog - To Each Their Own -  your mileage with this book may vary! All I can say for sure is that this one was not for me.

2 stars
For fans of Venice, contemporary erotica

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