Sex and violence: what has changed for women since In the Cut? Olivia Sudjic on the reissue of Susanna Moore’s subversive masterpiece

“I don’t usually go to a bar with one of my students. It is almost always a mistake. But Cornelius was having trouble with irony.” So begins In the Cut, Susanna Moore’s devastating 1995 novel on which Jane Campion’s 2003 film is based. I would call it a subversive masterpiece, but I imagine Frannie, Moore’s narrator, would bristle that “master” means male teacher.

The novel follows Frannie, a divorced 34-year-old English teacher living alone in New York, as she becomes entangled in a murder investigation. She half-sees a woman fellating a man in the basement of a bar and later discovers that the mystery woman has been murdered. The book is sexy and violent, on the knife edge between desire and danger, but it’s also interested in the framing of these kinds of stories: on the opening page, Frannie deliberates over giving her students certain texts to read as “they would be so sensibly outraged by the beating, murdering and dismemberment of women that they might not be able to see the intelligence in the books”.

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