Review: Affection by Krissy Kneen

kneen affection

In Affection, Krissy Kneen explores life in terms of her abundant and raucous sexuality.  To focus on the prurient aspects of this memoir, however, is to miss its gorgeous heart.  Though she discusses sex in the frankest terms, Kneen also explores how she’s been able to resolve passionate desire with restrictive social attitudes.

A sensual child, Kneen recalls an early life full of sounds, smells, visions, all of which were linked in some way with sharp physical pleasure.  She’s reared in a repressive household dominated by eccentric women.  Unfortunately and most confusingly for Kneen, they are all terrified of sex.  When she finally breaks free, she does so in a big way, smashing the rules, remaking them to fit her body and her heart.

She possesses a zany glamour, refusing to do the washing up unless she wears an op-shop ball gown with her rubber gloves and listens to Puccini turned up full blast.  She slips a man a scrap of paper with an address that happens to be a derelict lot.  When he arrives, he finds Kneen dressed formally, serene in a circle of candles, and an urban picnic laid with china, silver, crystal, and her homemade lasagne.

Affection shows the way sex underlies the activities of everyday life, how it infuses relationships with charm and majesty—if even for a moment.  Kneen develops crushes on workmates.  She falls in love (for an instant) with a passing older woman simply because of her beautiful hands.  There is the relationship with the gay boy and another with the straight girl and another with the demolishing older man.  Most significantly, there is the unflappable husband of eighteen years, who understands Kneen’s fleeting crushes and her obsessions.  The marriage grounds her and, at the same time, allows the freedom for a consuming fantasy life.

The candid, openhearted Kneen refuses to accept that she must ‘be’ a certain way.  She views sexuality as something as individual as a fingerprint and acts accordingly.  Angered by so-called ‘ideals of feminine beauty’ and neat categories of sexuality, she will not be defined.  At the same time, she envies friends for their easy good looks.  She defiantly resists social judgment, even while she forms her own strong opinions.  When Kneen is most strident, she is also most revealing.

Kneen raises questions we all face:  For example, how does one reconcile a no-holds-barred sexuality—the constant tug and pull of desire—with mature love and commitment?  And what about the effects of time?  After all, the body ages but desire remains, often as overpowering as ever.  Kneen presents her life as a set of matryoska dolls:  the wild sensual child is enveloped by the fierce young woman who is, in turn, enveloped by the long-married woman capable of fully embracing her sexual appetites.

Lushly written, Affection is a vivid and unabashed account of a woman who has come to terms with her body, accepting where she’s been and looking forward to more.

Affection will be launched 6pm, Thursday, 30 July at Avid Books.

Affection, Krissy Kneen,Text.


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