Steven Carroll

HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd
3 February 2021


Steven Carroll

A woman writes a story for her married lover.  Something she always thought of as a fairy tale. A fairy tale with a dark side, like the best of fairy tales...’     

Occupied France, 1943. France’s most shameful hour. In these dark times, Dominique starts an illicit affair with a distinguished publisher, a married man. He introduces her to the Resistance, and she comes to have a taste for the clandestine life - she has never felt more alive. Shortly after the war, to prove something to her lover, she writes an erotic novel about surrender, submission and shame. Never meant to be published, Story of O becomes a national scandal and success, the world’s most famous erotic novel. But what is the story really about - Dominique, her lover, or the country and the wartime past it would rather forget?     

From one of our foremost writers, the acclaimed and multi-award-winning Steven Carroll, comes O, a reimagining of what might have been, the story of a novel that took on a life of its own and mirrored its times in a way the author never dreamt of.   


Almost 70 years ago, a slim little book was published by a small French publishing house, sans publicity or fanfare, its author a previously unheard-of woman by the name of Pauline Réage. The Story of O would go on to become one of the most divisive (and bestselling) works of literature ever published, celebrated by some, reviled by others. For decades, Réage’s identity remained a mystery, many believing The Story of O could never have been written by a woman. Then, in 2004, it was revealed that the true author was Dominique Aury, a refined, intellectually passionate French woman, respected for her translations and her years of excellent work as an editor at leading French publisher Gallimard. Many have since speculated how such a woman could have written this novel. Moreover, why would she have written it?

Enter Steven Carroll and his new novel O. Some might say that a book that seeks to reimagine Aury’s motivations for writing The Story of O could never be written by a man, but I would argue Carroll has done a spectacular job. O is beautifully written, at once a heartbreaking love story and a deft exploration of just why The Story of O so offends those who despise it. The multifaceted conversations between Carroll’s Dominique and her married lover Jean (also her publisher) enthral the reader, conveying the progression of this unique relationship, and provoking deeper thought as to why the world finds the baring of female desire so appalling, even frightening.

Carroll is known and celebrated for his talent in writing all-encompassing historical novels, often focusing on other writers, their skill with words and their imagined motivations for writing. Were Aury alive to read O, I have no doubt she would be well pleased with his portrayal of her: a woman brave even when afraid, thrilled by secrecy and danger, most free when defeated and occupied.

Tye Cattanach works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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