Sex is forbidden at the Dasgupta Institute, the Buddhist retreat where Beth Marriot has taken refuge, and that's a big advantage. Beth has been working as a server, assisting in the kitchen and helping out - discreetly, so the meditators aren't disturbed. The meditators are making big sacrifices to come here and change their lives. So the servers must observe the rules, and silence and separation of the sexes are chief among them.
But Beth is fighting demons. She came here at a crossroads in her life, caught between an older lover who wouldn't choose her and a young one who wants to marry her, and she may have caused another man's death when she risked her own life swimming out to sea in a gale. A singer in a band, vital and impulsive, fleshy and sexy, she has been a rebel and a provocateur. And now, conflicted and wandering, she stumbles on a diary in the men's dorm and cannot keep away from it, or the man who wrote it. At the same time, desiring - all too hard - to achieve the inner peace that Buddhist practice promises, she yearns for the example set by the slim, silent, white-clad teacher Mi Nu, and maybe yearns for something more.
Comic and poignant at the same time, swiftly paced and completely engaging, Sex Is Forbidden is an entertaining novel about two profoundly different attitudes to life, and Beth - our narrator - is a character to be savored.
Beth Marriot, a rebellious, sexy singer, is at an in-between moment in her life: in between two men, specifically, one older, and one younger. Which is why she takes some time away for herself in a serving job at the Dasgupta Institute, a serene Buddhist retreat where sex is strictly forbidden. But somehow, Beth finds temptation in a man's revealing diary, and ends up having to choose between physical fulfillment - and inner peace. Suzanne Heathcote's saucy vocal performance adds some vital sizzle, making this fun, entertaining story a provocative listen.
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A journey in noble silence
I haven't read the print version
It's an accurate portrayal of the experience of noble silence. The protagonist (the book is in the first person) has been on retreat longer than I ever have, and she's more neurotic than I, but her flights of fancy and experiences confronting the fetters and hindrances are all told faithfully, exactly the way they happen. The particulars are different, but they are exactly the way they happen. It's really well-told!
I haven't read the book, so it's hard to say, but she is very strong at portraying the internal world of a yogi/retreatant. She understands the whimsy and the humor and the desperation that are equal parts of the process of confronting the self and the mind when you're observing noble silence. It's a thoroughly convincing performance.
It would have been a very long sitting, but I did enjoy coming back to it at every opportunity.
All around fine performance and strong story. The ending was disappointing for me, but the rest of it made up for it. If you've ever wondered what it was like to be on meditation retreat, this is the experience. Hopefully you're not as neurotic as the protagonist, but that shouldn't change the fact that this is what retreat is like. Well done!
- D. A. Vail