The Girl behind the Mask by Stella Knightly

Louisa Leontiades Books, Reviews

It’s rather late in the day to be reading and reviewing an erotic novel. Shades of Grey-mania has passed. And passed me by during the three years since my daughter’s birth where I haven’t read so much as a warning on the back of a fag packet (mainly because I gave up smoking and reading around the same time).

Three long years since I settled back with a good book.

But I have Stella Knightley aka. famous novelist Chrissie Manby to thank for getting me back in the saddle again in a literary – and also (ahem) – physical sense. Although her pen name is Chrissie – I actually know her as Chris. That’s right I know her. Sort of. She is in fact the most famous person I have ever met (apart from Stuart Hall who we don’t mention anymore). She’s a friend of a friend and someone with whom I spent an evening with in Paris, New Year’s eve 2001. She is also – like me – adopted. A connection that I never forgot. And even though when we met, my memory blanked out the fact that 4 of her published novels were sitting on my bookshelf and my opener was ‘Oh have you ever written anything I might have read?’, she hasn’t blanked me out. That’s how nice she is. So when I asked a few weeks ago for a copy of her first foray into the world of erotica… she obligingly sent it all the way to Sweden.

The Girl behind the Mask – decorated just as it should be in hot pink and black – is a subtle and seductive introduction to a rather English Erotic heroine. The book is well plotted (not just barely linked sexual encounters) and uses a double threaded storyline (similar to Kate Morten’s The House at Riverton) of a protagonist, seeking answers to a ‘sexy’ mystery in the past. Usually (and I say usually with the assured expertise of someone whose read only one erotic novel until now) one wouldn’t read an erotic novel for the story…and so it was that I hurried through the opening blurb to page 17 where I could read about sex.

Writing – and reading – about sex is intensely personal. I know, because I’ve done it. And as we all know authors have a habit of writing from personal experience. What a blessed relief this one was. No chains, no whips, no ball gag. Just a real, sexy and titillating description of the best vanilla sex you’ve ever had (in the beginning of the book at least…). Most have been there, because in general vanilla sex, is how anyone begins their sexual encounters. And as opposed to my other well-thumbed tome, this one actually described hot one-on-one sex… my kind of sex.

My original intention was to skip past to the next sexy part, but the book captivated me for its story. Intrigue and romance grounded in a historical fiction mystery with dollops of explictly arousing sex thrown in – sometimes obviously so – but welcome nonetheless. And as a practising polyamorist, the terrifying and yet sexually arousing encounter of the first toe dip into swinging she describes is one I’ve experienced in person.

Either “Stella” has a pretty good imagination, or she’s had a good time researching the novel…

In fact, the girl behind the mask is exceedingly enjoyable on so many levels for me. Not least the awakening my sexual ardour after so much downtime as a new Mum. I’m anticipating the next in the trilogy for the story, the historical fiction, the familiarity of tentative sexual debauchery, the oh-so-english heroine who has sex like me and just maybe getting a glimpse of the real Girl behind the Mask through her writing. The nice down-to-earth yet famous girl I once hung out with in Paris, Chris Manby.