Of Love, Lust, and the Layers In-Between
Reviewing ‘A Handbook for My Lover’ by Rosalyn D’Mello
In a quaint little corner of a newly-opened cafe in Delhi’s chic Khan Market, I sat down with my Hazelnut Iced Latte, venturing into my next read. Rosalyn D’Mello’s ‘A Handbook for My Lover’ opens with a *gentle* discretion that got me cracking for a minute, garnering attention from the couple sitting beside me.
“No men were harmed in the making of this handbook”, the page read.
For those of you wondering if this is yet another handbook/guide/manual about sex that I’m about to break down, I assure you there’s a world beyond the rhetorics. Rosalyn’s writing is nothing short of spectacular, for she managed to weave a universe with merely her words where it’s just her, her muse, and you - the voyeur, the onlooker consuming her story. Yes, it’s not entirely a work of fiction (in the author’s words); this book delves deeper into the layers of her amorous relationship with a man who is thirty years older than her. Erotically charged, soft, sensual, and eloquent—this memoir is not an ode to her lover, but a survival toolkit of sorts, reminiscing the good, the bad, and the ugly of her partnership. Hence, the name.
For someone who has devoured what Wattpad Literotica had to offer in her late teens, I would be lying to myself if I didn’t mention how the cover and the way one chapter flows into the other, brought back tons of memories from my school days. I used to sit at the back of my class with a phone in my hand (an illicit affair indeed) and keep scrolling in nervous anticipation, drawing my thighs closer with my mouth wide open. Reading erotica in public space has its own fan club, and I was making the club proud when I decided to read a book as racy as this one in broad daylight, in a considerably crowded cafe.
Getting back, ‘A Handbook for My Lover’ beautifully captures the intricacies of D’Mello’s love, desire, fantasies, beliefs, and passion while navigating the quagmire that was her six-year-long relationship with a famous photographer, set in the Indian landscape of the 2010s. Thirty years apart in age, the story tries to unpack the complexities of their relationship, and the deep-seated (and, explicit) power dynamics between the author and P.B. - the lover.
This book was pivotal to the mainstream feminist erotic literature in India back in the days when women were often seen as the side characters in a (male) protagonist’s story, sexualized, and often reduced by the writing.
What REALLY works well…
I genuinely appreciate the author’s flair for building convincing narratives around all the characters, including herself. While this is a first-person account, and D’Mello doesn’t really give away a lot about her then-partner, it didn’t take me long to be able to view him in my own way. So, not only was the writer painting a picture for the readers, I imposed my worldview, judgments, and biases onto the character because maybe I too had such intimate encounters that used to take more from me than they could ever give.
Another important aspect of this book that I admire is the way everyday, unsaid nuances and rituals of a relationship have been embraced and discussed. From the morning coffee to the way the day ends, how you sleep differently with each other, and those tiny gestures personal to each relationship - like a guarded, well-kept secret. The storytelling for the more intimate moments feels almost poetic, free-flowing, and delicate, emphasizing the body language, expressions, and the way pleasure is felt and perceived by the author and her partner alike.
Quoting an excerpt here:
“My fingers trail across your body until they confront your fingers. You follow every slight movement and confront the contrast between our shades. Your complexion - a delicate strain of brown inherited through a combination of ancestral influences. Mine only slightly lighter than coal.”
For me, what did stand out is how the pain, loss, and longing of your lover, the person you have been vulnerable to and with, is explored metaphorically by quoting the likes of Sylvia Plath, Alain de Botton, and Henry Miller. While the book definitely could just as easily be a good read without the same, discussing the surrealism behind these authors’ philosophies was a window into D’Mello’s inner world.
What COULD have been better…
As someone who appreciates memoirs and first-person narratives, I would have liked to understand the author’s familial relationships and how they might tie up with her romantic and sexual explorations. She does however tap into her past traumas, alongside how the idea of love and punishment coexisted for her as a child.
While the author hints at her experience of shadism early on in the book, the same seems to get lost as we go deeper into the story. I do feel the context would have helped more had the same been explored, especially when it came to the author’s self-esteem.
Also Read: Finding Your Way to Becoming Cliterate with Dr. Laurie Mintz
Note for the Readers
I think this book makes for a great read for someone who appreciates the vernaculars of romance, eroticism, and beauty and would like to experience immersive storytelling. This book could even be passed on to your best friend (I know I am going to do that), just so you can have a healthy and happening chatter about the same over coffee - discuss all things relationships, dating, seeking, finding, and letting go of love, and of course, uncovering those faint whispers of desire.
Juicy Reads by That Sassy Thing is an initiative where we will review books that align with our vision of making the world a safer, more pleasurable space.
We'll start with reviewing 2 books every month and as we grow, we'll have lots more coming your way!
About the Author
Anuja (she/her) is our Creator-in-Residence. After exploring all the different ways she could talk about who she identifies as, this is the closest she could get: “I’m your quintessential dog hoomum with a blue typewriter, living three blocks away, probably writing about you."