The Siren is a modern-day retelling of My Fair Lady with uptight English literary fiction editor Zachary Easton as an unwilling Professor Higgins and well-known wild child Nora Sutherlin as his erotica-writing Eliza Doolittle. Zach only has six weeks left at Royal House New York before he heads to Los Angeles to take over as Chief Managing Editor at Royal West. When his boss orders him to help Nora Sutherlin rewrite her latest novel, Zach agrees to work with her only if he is given complete control over the fate of her book. If Nora doesn’t rewrite it to his satisfaction in six weeks, Royal won’t publish it.
This review can also be found on Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell-blog.
Zach is on his way to LA and as far away as he can get from London. He only has six more weeks to go, but first, he’s asked to edit one more manuscript. The catch is, the novel is an erotica written by Nora Sutherlin. That same novel means more to Nora than anything else she’s written and she wants to get it right. She’s desperate enough to give Zach total control over it.
The blurb promises gruelling, draining, and shockingly arousing writing sessions, which are notably absent from the book. There is writing, there are sessions, there are shredded scenes, and there are excerpts from the book within the book—something I particularly disliked mostly because of the dip in quality—none of which were the reason for my rating.
The word I’m stumbling over is the last one in the list—arousing.
Once again, I’m the odd man out; I don’t get the appeal.
Reisz can write well and there were certain things I enjoyed reading. I mostly liked the banter between characters and the characterisations. I liked the fact that none of them were boring or insufferably honourable and good. I liked that they were flawed.
I adored Wes. He was used to mirror Nora’s relationship with Søren and I kept thinking he was better than that, that he deserved to get away. As good a guy as he was, as vanilla, he never came across as sanctimonious. Quite the opposite, he knew his flaws, just like he recognised Nora’s flaws and accepted them. He was honest with himself.
Unlike Zach. The Jewish—a very important fact that—Zachary or Zechariah Easton had to quite literally have the truth beaten out of him. That certainly didn’t add to his nonexistent appeal, but I’m glad someone found him appealing if it takes him far away from the story. Zach also earned the label too stupid to live for not figuring out or at least suspecting what Nora’s day job was.
Søren, Nora’s old Dom, let’s just say that I liked him much more with the robes on than off and that I didn’t understand why he’d care for Nora on any level. Although, I wouldn’t mind reading more about his flavour of mind-fuckery as long as it was kept out of the dungeon-hell. As a turn on, Søren fails.
J.P., Kingsley, and Mary, were among the supporting cast I’d like to know more about, but not as much as I was left wanting layers for the office villain. He was an example of a lazy characterisation and especially disappointing compared to the effort put into the main cast.
And then there was Nora Sutherlin, the author and pseudonym for Eleanor Schreiber. The woman, the Switch, who’s not afraid of her sexuality or playing the game. In fact, I think that might be the only thing she’s not afraid of, the game. Nora only ever came close to being honest with herself and facing her own feelings when she was with Wes. I’d go as far as to call her a coward that’s how busy running from herself she was. And all I have for a coward is pity.
No, Nora isn’t a likeable main character, but being a user and a bitch doesn’t make her strong either. It simply makes her interesting and that’s where the strength of this novel is—in the characters.
But. There’s more.
Or rather, there isn’t. The Siren is an erotica but very unerotic at that. I’m not a fan of pain and I don’t particularly get excited by the forbidden aspect of sex—hazards of having been born a Finn with a mother who never shut up about the human reproduction when I was growing up and living in a sauna culture where the most natural state of man is in the nude. The closest I came to finding anything erotic in this book was when Nora was with Wes, Michael, or Sheridan. That’s when she let little bit of her armour slip away, emotions trickle out and almost show intimacy.
At this point, I feel like I’m repeating myself, because I’ve written it so often lately. I could list a spoilery list of events—which include [highlight to view spoiler: hints of blood play, a sex scene with an underaged boy, a f/f BDSM scene, multiple occasions of beatings leading to face injuries, casual dismissal of the law enforcement, a rape, an unrealistic office fight, bringing religion into sexuality, infidelity saving a marriage]—and not see a plot in it. But apparently that’s okay, because Nora’s introduces the reader and Zach to the shocking horrors of BDSM life. I only half-kid. The pure BDSM shocked and horrified me about as much as it aroused me, which is to say very little.
To be perfectly honest, I was bored. It didn’t take me days to finish reading the book because I was savouring the story; it took me days because reading a sex scene after another became a chore. Neither did the manufactured confrontations or Nora’s assumed self-sacrifice help. I only devoured the pages when there was emotional torture or those rare moments honesty for example when Søren was telling Nora off or when was Wes his adorable self.
All this left me thinking that this would have been a much better book without the sex and wishing Reisz had written a deliciously twisted character drama centering around something other than kink. As well written as The Siren is, it’s not enough to make it a good book.
Just to make this clear: Yes, I was trying out a new genre. No, I was not expecting a romance. Yes, I still think the book failed.