The History of My Sexuality
In this funny and moving novel, a young woman grapples with love, gender and being a writer
Sofie is a young woman in Amsterdam who feels unfeminine and is attracted to women. She describes herself as someone who is wrong about pretty much everything: ‘About the boys and the girls, the right answer and – much more importantly – the right question.’ This history of her sexuality begins with the loss of her virginity and ends right before she starts to visit the hospital where you can become ‘less of a girl and more of a boy’. In the meantime, she recounts her chaotic life and sexual experiences: men, women, no one, loneliness, fear – and plenty of hilarious anecdotes.
The narrator clearly enjoys holding forth – but we get the sense that her easy candour could actually betray an underlying insecurity, her shoutiness a way of masking her vulnerability. That combination of bravado and fragility is typical of the author’s style, which transcends binary categories.
In a brash and irreverent tone, Sofie looks back on her high school years, the various university degrees she’s tried on for size, her eclectic group of friends and her travels in Europe. Lakmaker creates a sense of a rapport with the reader by addressing them directly (‘Can you imagine?’). She describes her mind as ‘intense and unruly’, which is borne out by the structure of the novel, which consists of a non-chronological series of anecdotes. The author herself reflects on the lack of a clear narrative arc.
At the end of the novel, however, she brings everything into perfect balance. At the start of the final chapter, she drops a bombshell: ‘So this may come as a bit of a surprise, but my mother was actually sick the whole time all this was going on.’ At the eleventh hour, Lakmaker’s story becomes deeply moving. Suddenly the quippy defiance of the first half of the book feels like a deliberate stylistic choice, form mirroring content. In light of this revelation, her defence mechanisms and her desire to be subsumed into a big love story take on a different meaning. At an organic grocery store, she has an epiphany: ‘The only people who shop here are people who need tangible evidence that there’s nothing to understand, and who therefore want to fork out seven euros for a single packet of pasta.’ At this point, her mother has just died.
The History of My Sexuality is full of apt observations and brilliant analogies, and is reminiscent of the early work of Arnon Grunberg, or a more optimistic The Catcher in the Rye. But mainly it’s a riveting book about a young woman’s search for identity and love.