Twenty-six year old Julia Greenfield has long suspected everyone is having fun without her. It’s not that she’s unhappy, per se. It’s just that she’s not exactly happy, either. She hasn’t done anything spontaneous since about 2003. Shouldn’t she be running a start up? Going backpacking? Exploring unchartered erogenous zones with inappropriate men?
Somewhere between her mother’s latent sexual awakening and her spinster aunt’s odd behaviour, Julia finally snaps. It’s time to take some risks, and get a lift. After all – what has she got to lose?
Losing It by Emma Rathbone is the story of a 26-year-old virgin determined to lose it this summer that, I think, from its marketing and strapline (“life is what happens when you lose control”) was supposed to be an empowering tale of self-determination that for me, at least, sorely missed the mark.
Julia spends approximately 99% of her time thinking about her virginity. If you think this wouldn’t be particularly interesting to read, you would be right.
Fact is, virginity is really only one aspect of Julia’s life that hasn’t gone according to plan. Once destined to become an Olympic swimmer, her life took a nose dive when she realised she wasn’t good enough and hasn’t really recovered since. Stuck with friends she doesn’t like, in a job she hates (though it is worth mentioning I didn’t see Julia do any work throughout this entire book. She did do a lot of sitting at her desk thinking about being a virgin. It is a theme with her. Oftentimes I wanted to shake her and be like ‘maybe someone would do you if you were more interesting, Julia’, but, truth is, lack of personality is not a barrier for most people so it doesn’t seem like a valid argument. Basically what I am getting at is this: Julia is the worst), one day, overwhelmed by her accidental virginity, she decides to quit her job and move back in with her parents (how she thought this would help the situation is unclear), but her parents are going on a holiday to try and save their marriage (the ‘mother’s latent sexual awakening’ mentioned in the blurb), so they tell her to go and live with her plate-painting, drowning dog-saving, eccentric old aunt Viv.
Aunt Viv is also a virgin.
And not only is Aunt Viv a virgin, but she is a weird, lonely liar who tells people she’s lived in spiritual getaways in Bali or someplace when in reality she’s never travelled much further than North America – and she hasn’t even seen most of that. And she is, for some reason, totally incapable of having a normal conversation. She is the human embodiment of Julia’s nightmare for herself, the confirmation of all her worst fears – that there is something wrong with her, that she has diverged from the path too far to ever self-correct (her words, not mine), that she is capital D DOOMED.
Cue, from me, the longest sigh in the world. Whether your house was made of straw or sticks I blew that sucker down.
What bothered me so deeply about this book is that virginity, for these women, was conflated with personal failure, that it was only in having sex they might achieve legitimacy in the eyes of others and themselves. For me, this made for deeply uncomfortable reading and was an idea I kept waiting for Rathbone to challenge… but she never did. There was no real exploration of why these women had never had sex (despite Julia’s endless pondering on the subject she fails to draw one interesting conclusion throughout the entire novel), what their exact hang ups were and in Viv’s case whether a sex life was something she even wanted. We only ever saw her as Julia did – a shell of a crazy cat lady whose life had never really gotten off the ground, but from the hints of friendships and an art career Rathbone introduced but never explored it’s evident that can’t possibly be true. It’s shoddy characterization, does a disservice to Viv and struck me as really quite harmful to anyone on the aro/ace spectrum.
Aside from being varying degrees of offensive, Losing It is also very predictable (spoilers to follow if you plan on picking up this book, though I would recommend you spend your time doing literally anything else). Once she’s kissed a few frogs and caused total destruction in Aunt Viv’s life with her single minded need for the peen, after Julia calms down and let’s go of her desperation she winds up losing her v-card to a cute guy from her office she initially thought was married but it turns out isn’t and realises, as most do after their first consensual sex, that it isn’t such a big deal after all.
Short pause while we all slow clap for Julia.
I suppose if I’m being very generous there is comfort to be found in this book for anxious virgins that odds are, if you want it to, sex will happen. As Julia proves, even if you are the literal worst, someone, somewhere, will eventually want to fuck you.