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O ne of the most startling memoirs I read last year was Tim Parks's Teach Us to Sit Stillin which the novelist learned to manage a lifetime of pain through meditation. In choosing to write such a physically and emotionally honesthe laid himself surprisingly bare. Her equally honest, self-exposing new memoir isn't about meditation, however.

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It's about sex. Yet even as I type that explosive little word, I worry that it's misrepresenting her. Though it will certainly be sold that way, Roffey's book is about far more — it's a candid exploration of the vulnerability of middle-age, as well as a fairly brutal examination of the human heart and its endless capacity to be broken.

And yet… there's a lot of sex in it. In her late 30s, Roffey fell in love with a fellow novelist — he remains anonymous, referred to throughout as My Ex — and together they ran the Arvon writing centre in Devon. After several cosy years, Roffey receives a bombshell in the post: a woman writes to say she's been having an affair with this not-yet-ex, and here are the s to prove it. Devastated, Roffey leaves — and falls apart. Ten months later, still broken, still sad, she contemplates internet dating, but, realising she's more in need of a lover than a boyfriend, decides to try Craigslist, the "bargain-basement of all internet dating sites".

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Here, you advertise yourself online and, after exchanging s which are "stripped of the niceties of courtship", arrange to meet complete strangers for sex. Whatever your views on the extent to which women desire this kind of emotionally unencumbered physical encounter — and I accept that some must — Roffey's new hobby comes as a surprise after what we have learned of her relationship with the ex.

She tells us that one of the biggest reasons it foundered was their sex life: at best sporadic and often non-existent.

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Though she adored him, she did not — could not — desire him sexually. And, by her own admission, she did not seek to change this either.

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Nevertheless, the new, sexually energetic and curious Roffey and to be fair, she seems fully aware of the startling turnaround meets 24 strangers online and, within a space of about 18 months, has sex with six of them — seven, if you count the telephone sex episode. Each encounter is graphically, often humorously, and occasionally chillingly described.

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It was at this point — s in, another ahead — that I began to wonder where exactly we would go from here. Statements such as "we kissed and soon I was naked, sitting on the kitchen countertop" this is a man in a cowboy hat — surely a bad ?

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And yet, this turns out to be just the beginning. Admitting that Craigslist is the "sex of the lonely", and observing that it also has the side-effect of making the meeting of "real life" men seem "much too ordinary", Roffey moves on. And you have to admire her thoroughness.

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She tries sex workshops and tantra festivals, encounters with "body workers" and "erotic masseurs" — and is never less than stringently, photographically and sometimes touchingly honest about the detail of what she does and precisely how it makes her feel, both sexually and emotionally. Finally, she ends up at a "hideously ugly" swingers' resort in the south of France, where she and her two "glamorous tantrika" friends find themselves repulsed by the predatory coldness of the inmates. I admit I was slightly baffled by this episode.

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By the time Roffey he to France, she really does seem to have been on a useful journey, gleaning real and sometimes uncomfortable truths about herself and her past. Her inability to feel sexual about her ex, for instance, seems to stem in part from a tendency to seek out fatherly types as lovers — an attempt to compensate for a complicated relationship with her own father. Yet instead of using this hard-won self-knowledge to find someone suitable for a satisfying adult relationship — or possibly, dare I say it, love?

Her faux-naive answer — "I wanted to know more about how and why couples swing" — didn't persuade me. And maybe it was partly because I'd genuinely begun to like and feel for Roffey — both as narrator and, yes, as sexual being — that I felt let down.

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It usually infuriates me when people say that writers are just "looking for copy", because it is very rarely the case, but the idea skipped disloyally through my mind for one uncomfortable moment. Still, despite these small frustrations, I want to stick up for this book.

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It is astoundingly brave. It is funny.

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It speeds along. It has magic at its heart — that indefinable sliver of human warmth and hope that all the best, most searching memoirs seem to have.

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Moreover, Roffey's somehow irrepressible willingness to share begins to seem generous, infectious even. As she finally manages to let go of Ex and view their intense, yet largely platonic, love affair as something to celebrate rather than regret, I found myself knocked off course in a rather moving and indescribable way.

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Perhaps most tellingly, Roffey admits that, despite all the workshops and zestful attempts at sexual self-improvement, she actually likes her "flawed and crooked self" and in some ways makes a writerly choice to remain "blind" because "I wanted to turn the darkness in me into prose". Well, good. Because isn't that exactly what we need writers — the brightest, most adventurous and self-scrutinising ones, like Parks and Roffey — to do: to take that same darkness and turn it into something so blazingly alive that it can shine a little light on the rest of us?

This article was relaunched on 7 June to replace an earlier version that had not been edited or revised sufficiently.


The story of a midlife sexual odyssey wins Julie Myerson over with its honesty and bravery. Monique Roffey photographed at home in Kilburn, London. Photograph: Anna Gordon. Julie Myerson's novel "Then" is published by Jonathan Cape. Reuse this content. ZIP: 72211 72210 72212 72223 72209 72202 72201 72206 72207 72204 72205 72103 72227 72215 72217 72219 72222 72225 72231 72255 72260 72295

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