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'Three Women': Sincere account on women, desire and sex

Devina Heriyanto
Devina Heriyanto

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Mon, December 2, 2019  /  09:07 am
'Three Women': Sincere account on women, desire and sex

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo (

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo is an ambitious, well-crafted narrative about the lives of three women and their sexuality. If you are still wondering what the book is about, consider this: Phoebe Waller-Bridge of the hit series Fleabag is currently reading Three Women.

The book is eight years in the making, and Taddeo spent thousands of hours with the three women, both in real life or over the phone, text message and email. In her author's note, Taddeo stated that she selected the three women based on their stories and willingness to be frank and vulnerable enough to expose their private lives. But Taddeo also mentioned something else: the distinct voice each woman has, which will give the book its strength and make it read almost like a literary novel and not just another journalistic minutiae.

The three women are Maggie, Lina and Sloane. Each of them is grappling with their own sexuality, both in the past and the present. Taddeo talked to these women and scoured newspapers and legal documents as well as other archives that could support their narrative, and present their stories in the form of alternating chapters in the book.

In the #MeToo era, Maggie was a student when she became romantically involved with her teacher. They engaged in a relationship, despite the fact that she was 17 years old and her teacher was married.

"He looks at her, she is sure, like he wants to marry her. She's too young to know that men can be like this one day and then not see you for a week," a passage in Maggie's chapter reads, illuminating how a teenager can be led into a relationship with an older man, debunking the notion that "she should've known better".

Years later, after the relationship ended, Maggie spoke out and took the case to court. Her chapters will reveal the narrative we all sadly know too well: how easy it is for a victim to be dismissed in a case of sexual abuse.

Lina's story is rather unusual, but not at all uncommon. Her husband denies her the sexual contact she desires, forcing her to fulfill her longing for intimacy somewhere else. She ends up reuniting with her high school boyfriend, who is also married. 

"How can you call yourself a husband," Lina says, "And not give your wife the one thing that is supposed to unite you above all else?"

Perhaps, Lina's story is the thesis that Taddeo wants to make through the book: women are not passive subjects when it comes to sex and desires.

Sloane's life seems perfect. She is married to a man who owns a restaurant that she also manages. The twist is that her husband likes to watch her have sex with other people. This is an arrangement in the marriage, which she initially agreed to because she thought she would like the idea.

"We pretend to want things we don't want so nobody can see us not getting what we need," writes Taddeo in her prologue. Many chapters later, through Sloane, Taddeo shows that what women want is sometimes influenced by the men around them. Sex is not only about lust, but about power, the past, intimacy and all the things that make a person, person.

Read also: 'It's about time': Transit, an indie bookstore that wants you to read more women

What sets Three Women apart from another account on women and their sexuality is the fact that the book does not pass judgment on its characters, nor does it try to justify or glorify their actions. Maggie, Lina and Sloane are all real women with their past, flaws, desires and personalities, and Taddeo's greatest success is fleshing out the inner lives and private details on the pages.

In her epilogue, Taddeo writes, "I believe that their stories conjure desire as it is right now, the beast of it, the glory and the brutality. They are blood and bone and love and pain. Birth and death. Everything at once. And that, at last, is life." (mut)

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