Following the sad passing of legendary bonkbuster queen Jackie Collins yesterday, you will undoubtedly read millions of pieces by people claiming her books taught them about sex.
It probably sounds over-sentimental, but there’s more than a grain of truth in it. While it would be an overstatement to say jackie Collins taught me everything I know about sex – I consider myself still to be an enthusiastic apprentice – it certainly made me aware there was a whole load of disappointing sex out there waiting for me.
People who haven’t read Jackie Collins would wrongly assume that her books were full of glamorous, amazing shagging. It’s true that most of Jackie’s leading men and heroines are impossibly beautiful, but they tend to be dreadful in bed. Jackie Collins’ characters exist in a world where sex is usually fuelled by drugs, booze, revenge, boredom, money, power and ambition, but the bonking is almost universally terrible.
The best example of this would be the first Jackie Collins book I remember reading, aged 15, and my standout favourite, The Stud. I have moved house hundreds of times and have chucked out classics and heirlooms, but I have never let go of my battered ’80s copy of The Stud.
With a title like that, you’d think the lead character, Tony Blake, would be a masterful stallion, a demon in the sack but, in fact, Tony takes quantity over quality.
The handsome, strutting nightclub manager almost never sleeps alone – he doesn’t really sleep that often – and to hear him talk, he sounds a regular stud-muffin. Yuk. Thanks to Jackie’s wonderful storytelling, however, we learn Tony is actually “a bore” and a “terrible lay”. For The Stud is not just Tony’s story; it also belongs to Fontaine Khaled, a super-rich bitch who owns Tony’s nightclub and is banging him behind her tycoon husband’s back, plus her stepdaughter Alexandra, a truly clueless Sloane who uses Tony to make her friend’s dreary brother jealous.
What’s great about The Stud is none of the characters are remotely likeable, and are all fantastically deluded and unreliable narrators, which, of course, is my very favourite kind of storyteller.
The sex throughout is nothing short of grim. The most ‘exciting’ it gets is Fontaine bonking Tony in a lift, but even then she’s only doing it so she can film it, brag and show it to her awful friends – all of whom Tony is also shagging.
Alexandra has to fight off a drugged-up party animal who tries to rape her – and, as I recall, the man of her dreams turns out to be a crashing bore and a premature ejaculator.
Fontaine tires quickly of our hero, the ‘bit of rough’ novelty wearing off. There is a brilliant line when Fontaine watches Tony come through customs that’s influenced every luggage purchase I have made: “He has a cheap suitcase—nothing worse, a give-away immediately.”
Poor Tony grows to loathe Fontaine and not only tries to rip her off but soon turns his attention to demure Alexandra, stupidly falling in love with her. Alexandra doesn’t stay prissy for long and soon becomes a slightly less ghastly version of her wicked stepmother – dismissing Tony as nothing more than a bit of fun.
To say The Stud was “of its time” would be an understatement: creepy, peripheral characters dabble with underage girls – the book was published in 1969, long before Operation Yewtree – Tony talks like the very worst kind of clueless hipster and it’s quite routine for women to be groped or treated like shit.
What Jackie Collins always did brilliantly was paint a picture of glamour and perfection and lead us to covet our characters’ lifestyles and riches, only to carefully and calculatedly deconstruct it, ruining it for us and them. The Stud is her most masterful example. Using the three narrators, she picks apart their bravado, dreams, ambitions and supposed intellect, revealing them all – and all of us, of course – to be pathetic, miserable and doomed to failure.
In The Stud, Jackie’s characters learn that cash, champagne, dancing and shagging can bring us only temporary happiness, and you can’t make someone love you. A life lesson for us all. Read it, and remember the fragility of everything around us.
And thanks to Jackie, I became determined never to be a lousy lay like hapless Tony, selfish Fontaine, dim Alexandra or the supporting cast of lecherous and terrible shags.
Did I manage it? Well, you’d have to ask some other narrators. And even then, I wouldn’t believe a word they say. Jackie taught me that.