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A Smart, Dark Sexy Novel That’s Not For Everyone

…But if you like it, you will really like it.

By Laura Brading

Are you easily offended? Do you find descriptions of bodily fluids grotesque? Would it be wrong to include fondue in foreplay? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to consider if this book is right for you. 

If you’re still reading, I’m guessing you have a robust reading constitution, are intrigued by the fondue, or have read Jen Beagin’s previous two novels and know that her eccentric relatability and transgressive humour are entirely right for you. 

One of the most unhinged and enjoyable (the two go hand in hand, no?) books I’ve read in a long time, Big Swiss introduces us to Greta, a 45-year-old who has moved to a decrepit farmhouse in upstate New York. There, in a small bohemian town, where inhabitants dress like ‘boutique farmers”, she is employed as the transcriber for a questionable sex therapist.

When Greta meets Flavia — a married 28-year-old gynaecologist — sparks fly. Of course, when I say ‘meet’, what I actually mean is that Greta diligently listens to the sessions between the aforementioned questionable therapist and Flavia, who is unable to orgasm. In this way, Greta really gets to know the tall repressed European woman who she affectionately refers to as ‘Big Swiss’.

The two eventually do meet in person and, after a few lies on Greta’s part about who she is and what she does for a living, strike up an affair as amorous as it is transcendental.

The masterly crafted sexual tension and sexual comedy of the story is reminiscent of Melissa Broders’ 2018 The Pisces (everyone’s favourite merman erotica). This would be another useful metric to determine if Big Swiss is for you (if you loved it, you will love this).

Beyond the bawdiness, the book is an interrogation into trauma and the different ways it shapes a person’s constitution. Big Swiss declares “I am not one of those trauma people” who she deems “almost as unbearable as Trump people”. Greta, on the other hand, is.

Objectively terrible things have happened to both women and yet they are ideological opposites.


Objectively terrible things have happened to both women and yet they are ideological opposites.

“Why do you keep rolling around in your own shit?” Big Swiss asks Greta. And herein lies the crucial difference in their make-ups and one of the central questions of the book, as well as: are our futures predetermined by our pasts? Why do we want the things we want? And can you co-exist with 80,000 bees in an 18th-century Dutch farmhouse? 

Cohesion isn’t always Beagin’s top priority as a novelist, but just as you begin to question where the plot is going and why you are learning so much about maggot expulsion, she salvages the story with some perfect prose and a sense of insight and meaning emerges where you assumed there was none.

Indeed, for a book that is seemingly taking a poke at our therapy-obsessed culture and healing with a capital H, there is a surprising amount to be discovered in its pages about reclaiming joy and pleasure in the face of trauma.

Whether you come to this book for the fondue or the eavesdropping on the sex-coach sessions or because you want to read it before seeing Jodie Comer play Flavia in its TV adaptation (perfect casting in my opinion), know that it will likely challenge and offend you. It may even disturb you. But it will also most likely delight and surprise you. And it will absolutely never ever bore you.  



BY Laura Brading

Laura is part of the PRIMER team. She also runs WellRead, a book subscription service.

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