Linda Jaivan is best known (by me, anyway) for her erotic comedy. Since reading Eat Me in the mid-nineties, I get a tingle every time I go into the supermarket fruit section. Those who associate Jaivan with raunch may not know that she is also a serious scholar of all things Chinese. A Most Immoral Woman brings together her two diverse talents.
This well researched story is set in the ‘floating world’ of foreigners in China in the early 1900s and based on real people and events. It gives an insight into a part of history I knew little about – the war between Japan and Russia for control of Manchuria. And then, of course, there’s the sex…
Jaivan tells the story from the point of view of the Australian war journalist, ‘Morrison of Peking’. The ‘most immoral woman’ in question is Mae Perkins, an American heiress. Maisie, as Morrison calls her, is a free spirit who takes and discards men as she pleases. Morrison battles to resist Mae’s charms, but even her frank admission that she spreads her favours widely can’t quench his ardour. Maisie boasts that the Captain of her ship kissed her all the way fromHonolulutoPeking. In telling Morrison this, she sets him a challenge; ‘kiss’ being a euphemism for her favourite form of pleasure…
Written in overblown prose which mirrors that of the period, the book offers up a myriad of sights, sounds and smells. ‘Shanghai, with its steamy, moist exhalations, was yin. A woman, and a loose one at that. Anyone could have her.’
Morrison was a trifle dull as a character, but perhaps that was true to his nature. The exuberant Maisie was much more fun. And she alone questioned her society’s focus on sexual morality, while the ethics of a war in which so many died went un-noted.
While erotica and history is a not uncommon mix, Linda Jaivan gives it her own stamp. So is it naughty? Yes, but far from the graphic detail of Eat Me. I found A Most Immoral Woman to be a witty and sexy romp through history.
This is my fifth review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.