Every night when she goes to sleep, a woman dreams of erotic encounters with different men. She dreams of being the sponge squeezed to foaming in a gas station attendant's hand, and of twining her bare skin with a sea lion's thick pelt under the watchful eye of the sea lion trainer. From a gas station attendant to a sea lion trainer, a watchmaker to a teacher, a furrier to an astrologer, each evening's new encounter is more sensual and extravagant than the last.
... a truly astonishing outlier. While French literature enjoys a fairly prolific publication rate in English, the kinds of literature chosen for publication are often cerebral, philosophical, and introspective. Hoex’s series of vignettes, too, are interiorized, in that they are dreamworlds, but they are also fleshy, sensuous, and gilded with a teasing tone firmly rooted (pun intended) in sexual exploration and fulfillment ... for the contemporary reader, this play between canon and contemporary, oblique allusion and overt description, makes for a positively hilarious and pleasurable reading experience, one which excites the imagination and, yes, the body, in all sorts of ways. Reading most of Gentlemen Callers on my train commute, I found myself stifling laughter, blushing fiercely, delighting in punnery, and desperately hoping no one was reading over my shoulder. That the sensuous language comes in the form of a translation made my delight in its lush, teasing tone all the more pleasurable. O’Neil has truly pulled out all the stops here to be as playful in her translation as Hoex is in her style and construction ... While Gentlman Callers is an extremely playful book, it’s not without its darker moments, points where the harsh edges of contemporary sexual realties are thrown in sharp relief against the lighter sensuality of the surrounding texts ... Hoex’s playful romp through the transformative powers of female sensuality, rendered just as humorously in the English through O’Neil’s winking translation, toes the line of taste and teases the reader with allusions to the sex that saturates our culture, but which so often is treated with two polar opposite approaches.
Evocative and erotic, Corinne Hoex’s Gentlemen Callers seduces its audience with dreamy vignettes ... The language is artistic and evocative rather than explicit or crass, and the tone is inquisitive, suitable for the shifting realities the narrator experiences, akin to magical realism ... Without an overarching plot to unite the chapters, the pacing is mostly found within each chapter, in the enigmatic interactions that the narrator has with her dream lovers, the eponymous gentlemen callers ... delights and entertains with its teasing short chapters, hinting at the pleasures to be found in playful encounters with imaginary lovers.
... offers not so much a contribution to this problem as a path of diversion—a refreshing shortcut through the thickety discourses of sex, power, and consent. The destination, the clearing in the forest, is pleasure. Hoex’s book, which unfolds as a series of presumed dreams about the unnamed narrator’s entanglements with different men, flaunts an obsession with heterosexual romance, that wellspring of so much contemporary anxiety. Yet these uncanny erotic couplings aren’t plagued by the neuroticism of modern-day encounters; they take place in a humid atmosphere of surrealism and sensory profusion, sometimes even going beyond the realm of the human. Through these encounters, Hoex’s narrator seems able to perceive the lucid image of her own pleasure, which in real life—surveilled and structured as it is by the male gaze—women rarely get to do ... Hoex substitutes feeling for overthinking—the writing foregrounds material texture and taste, modeling a sort of Epicureanism of stimulation ... The men in Gentlemen Callers change, but Hoex pursues this commitment to the sensory with a religious seriousness ... Hoex’s verbs are fevered and dramatic, but unlike the prose of smut, also otherworldly ... Far from the brute literality of bodice-rippers, Hoex’s writing deploys the abstraction of poetry, as bodily pleasure folds into the pleasure of the surprisingly well-placed word ... Hoex, however, makes these two options feel like flipping, on and off, the same tired light switch. Can’t we imagine the outer limits of sex without anxiety? Can’t we believe in a pleasure that is new, perhaps disquieting—but not at risk of moral failure? The answer may be no. But in its love for a preposterous and ever-changing desire, Gentlemen Callers is less a switch than a floodlight cranked to full power; it shines, into the corners of ordinary life, a diffusive and even humorous erotics. And if Hoex ultimately tables necessary questions about consent and violence, she does offer us an imaginative alternative whose urgency and fidelity to naive pleasure is, in its own way, political.