book review: Permission by Saskia Vogel



PERMISSION by Saskia Vogel
Coach House Books, 2019


Comparisons between Permission and The Pisces are both understandable and reductive; understandable because sex-centric literary fiction set in Los Angeles is a pretty obvious comp, and reductive because sex and LA are pretty much where the similarities end. Where The Pisces excels, in my opinion, is in its refusal to sensationalize its explicit subject matter; Permission, on the other hand, never successfully avoids that trap.

Permission focuses on a young woman, Echo, who finds solace in the BDSM community after the sudden death of her father, when she befriends her neighbor Orly who happens to be a dominatrix. But what begins as a promising examination of sex as escapism from grief never really manages to take off. Echo, like her mythological namesake, is pretty much voiceless in this narrative, but in this case I don’t think it was deliberate: this book is just one of those character studies that centers on a character who’s drawn so anemically she may as well not exist at all. This goes for the other characters as well: there’s an interesting passage where Echo reflects on the fact that she’s been projecting onto Orly without fully realizing that she’s a human being in her own right, but then nothing is really done with this revelation, and Orly too remains unknowable.

Rather than using sex and BDSM as a vehicle to explore Echo’s loneliness (I think that was supposed to be the point), sex remains the focus in the shallow kind of way that I think could have been avoided if this story had a bit more depth and detail. I did enjoy Saskia Vogel’s prose and there were undoubtedly moments of poignancy here, but on the whole I was underwhelmed.

Thank you to Netgalley and Coach House Books for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

You can pick up a copy of Permission here on Book Depository.

15 thoughts on “book review: Permission by Saskia Vogel

  1. So what you’re saying is that I should read “The Pisces” instead.

    I’m still going to attempt to take one for the team (eventually) on account of my morbid curiosity, cause I really want to see BDSM done in a literary manner. Not just “lol it’s smut”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is indeed what I’m saying 😉 I mean, to be fair The Pisces is a super acquired taste, so I’d definitely read up on it a bit and see if it appeals to you before diving in.

      Permission is definitely worth reading for that element alone – I think it was the first time I’d seen BDSM depicted in literary fiction, and Vogel’s portrayal of that community was very interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a pity, this sounded very interesting! It was surely a risky theme, but it’s disappointing to see it not quite deliver. Amazing review!


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