Triptych by Krissy Kneen

Triptych by Krissy Kneen

Triptych by Krissy Kneen

This anthology is not for readers with a weak stomach for pushing sexual boundaries in fiction. The stories are challenging and absurd, the relationships unconventional, almost as if the author is daring us to keep reading.

This is a very strange book. I loved Australian author Krissy Kneen’s memoir, Affection, and after hearing her read excerpts from her new book, Triptych, I felt prepared for the confronting sexual situations I was about to encounter. And yet at the end of it all, I just felt…dissatisfied.

Triptych is a collection of three novellas inspired by works of art. The three stories are linked, but each looks at different types of sexual expression.

In ‘Susanna’, inspired by the painting Susanna and the Elders by Gentileschi, a woman googles her ex-lover and discovers the world of ChatRoulette. Susanna, also the protagonist’s name, finds comfort and sexual excitement in this world, and begins to suspect that her online lover lives in her building.

This story starts off beautifully and has, depending on your sense of humour, a spectacularly funny end. Susanna’s attempts to discover her lover’s real identity are alternately sweet, funny and more than a little creepy. It’s not your conventional romance, but I found it quite romantic in a mad kind of way.

‘The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife’, inspired by Hokusai’s erotic art, features Leda, and is the most confronting of the three stories. Leda’s lover is her pet dog, Paul, and when Paul dies she has a liaison with an octopus. It’s completely absurd and, if you can get past the bestiality, almost hilarious. Leda finds a kindred spirit in a (human) friend, who understands her unusual sexual preferences, and Kneen cleverly demonstrates how emotional ties—yes, even if it’s with a dog—complicate and perhaps heal this relationship.

In ‘Romulus and Remus’, inspired by the Rubens painting of the same name, the sexual taboo of incest is almost just an aside in Aaron and Katherine’s relationship. It’s a shock every time Kneen mentions their sibling relationship. They’ve been together for thirty years, and although they love each other, sex—once so forbidden and exciting and a pledge of their devotion to each other—no longer holds the same thrill, so they look outside of their relationship to satisfy their desires. Of the three novellas, I found myself the most conflicted by Aaron and Katherine’s choices, and I found it impossible to find the humour in their story.

Kneen writes beautifully, and she lures the reader into these stories that read like they should be easy and acceptable and lovely. Too late, you realise you’re trapped in this quagmire of difficult questions around the ethics, maybe even the morality, of sexual desire in its (as society sees it) extremes, of love and its boundaries and constraints, and of consent.

In her blog, Furious Vaginas, Kneen writes (possibly NSFW):

I don’t feel like my work is dangerous at all. It is all about love. It is all about forcing a reader to look at different configurations of love. It is an exercise in re-thinking the unthinkable.

Triptych may be about love, but not as most people like to think about it. It may be erotic, even pornographic, but it’s neither careless nor comfortable.

It’s also a bit exhausting. By the middle of the second story, I found my attention wandering—yes, despite the octopus—and I felt, well, a bit manipulated. By the third novella, that feeling had increased so much that I almost couldn’t stand the main characters, especially Aaron. Paradoxically, it was also the relationship I most wanted to end well.  Triptych made me think, which is a good thing, but I think my frustration with ‘Romulus and Remus’ coloured my overall enjoyment of the book, and I feel like I missed some crucial layers to these stories and how Kneen intends for them to be read.

Yay or nay?

This anthology is not for readers with a weak stomach for pushing sexual boundaries in fiction. The stories are challenging and absurd, the relationships unconventional, almost as if the author is daring us to keep reading.

Who might enjoy it: Readers with a dirty mind and a penchant for the absurd

Who might not enjoy it: Animals

A review copy of this book was generously provided by Text Publishing. Note that the ebook novellas are available separately or in one volume.

Title: Triptych (excerpt)
Author: Krissy Kneen
Publisher: Text Publishing
C format: 9781921758706 (3/10/2011)

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  1. Ruby says:

    I cant decide if I want to read it or not. I don’t have a weak stomach for this type of thing but Im just not sure if it is a book I would enjoy….aghhh not sure…

  2. Kat says:

    Ruby — Yeah, this one is a difficult one to recommend. I’d suggest either reading some of Kneen’s blog entries or flicking through the book to see if it’s something that might work for you. Barring that, maybe you can get the library to order it in for you.

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