A passionate novel of unstoppable physical obsession amongst a group of Brussels eurocrats, Illegal Liaisons offers a fascinating insight into the first Polish generation that is truly ‘free’, but struggle to know where the boundaries of that freedom lie.
Jonathan takes the role of a stay-at-home dad when his wife Megi moves the family from Poland to Brussels to pursue a career as a lawyer in the European Commission. Much as Jonathan tries, his new life seems to leave him with a void which he soon fills with the body of the sexy, up-and-coming Swedish journalist Andrea. What follows is a tormenting battle between conscience and desire, which more often than not ends in a draw.
Plebanek writes about sex in an unembarrassed way, asking uncomfortable questions about what is moral. Her characters have to negotiate between the old-fashioned devout Catholicism they grew up with, and the modern way of living they are desperate to embrace. Watch them as they try to claim their rightful place within the international crowd in the big world that turns out to be really rather small.
Expect the upending of stereotypes, a fair amount of profanity and a good share of smut.
Praise for Illegal Liaisons
Illegal Liaisons voted Best Book of 2012 - ‘Illegal Liaisons is an excellent example of great European literature that otherwise wouldn’t have got a chance to be known in the UK – thanks to Stork Press, Plebanek now has legions of British fans, and rightly so.’ These Little Words about the selection.
‘Powerfully erotic and intelligent, this novel, set in the political capital of the new Europe, shows risk-taking, glossy young professionals changing lanes at top speed between sex, parenthood and work as they race after love and meaning.’ Maggie Gee, author of My Cleaner, The White Family (shortlisted for International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and Orange Prize for Fiction), My Animal Life.
‘A remarkable achievement. This riveting novel not only shows that intimate liaisons can feel every bit as “illegal” as they do dangerous, but it also offers (sometimes literally) penetrating insights into the confluence of the personal and the political–here, at the heart of a twenty-first-century Europe where conceptions of gender roles and morality clash, comingle, and are redefined. A must for anyone with a mind for the erotic who also values their mind.’ Catherine Millet, author of The Sexual Life of Catherine M
‘Plebanek’s crisp and intelligent new novel is full of pitch-perfect descriptions, mostly but not exclusively about sex, and its contemplation…A merciless comedy of modern manners, and the politics of desire.’ Publishers Weekly
‘Fascinating…[E]xposes what can happen when the tables are turned in an ego-driven marriage, and a husband plays a secondary role next to a successful wife. Admirable command of language, as well as perceptive understanding of human character, sets this author’s work apart from run-of-the-mill erotic fiction. Strong description, creating a complete sensory experience, brings to vivid life each intimate encounter. The aftereffects, which linger long after the sex is over, permeate the scenes that follow.’ Julia Ann Charpentier, Foreword Reviews
‘This book remains a fascinating look at the generation that are living the reality of Poland’s new role at the heart of Europe. It is also a brave examination of changing gender roles, and suggests that the old order is, at least among the ex-pat elite, very much on the way out. Jonathan is a house-husband, and his greatest happiness comes from his children, while the female characters reject feminine conventions.’ Claire Strickett, For Books’ Sake
‘Though the sensual scenes between the unfaithful couple are thrilling and explicit, offering some of the most pleasurable moments in the novel, Illegal Liaisons is much more than a story of sex amongst today’s Euro-elites. Moving beyond passion, the novel is in fact a smart study of identity in the ‘new Europe’, examining the rapidly evolving topography of modern society, be it the deconstruction of traditional gender roles, the changing nature of personal relationships, or the role of national consciousness in an increasingly Diasporic continent…unique among translated fiction currently available.’ Nudge
‘As Maggie Gee said, writing about sex is nothing new. But writing about it and doing it well is a talent of only a few, and Grazyna Plebanek is one of those few…Yes, there is a fair amount of graphic erotic scenes in the novel, but they are there for a reason. Plebanek writes about sex with responsibility, good taste and, more importantly, as a tool to give meaning and credibility to her characters. That’s what differentiates Illegal Liaisons from you-know-which other novels.’ Blogravia
‘Intense and fascinating novel that questions the norm of family life as well the necessity of monogamy and the morality of sex…Plebanek’s writing is unembarrassed about sex and emotions, and is charged with a deep sadness as well as eroticism…thoughtful, unashamed, brave, and ultimately beautiful.’ Little Words
‘Plebanek is exceptionally good at depicting the dynamics of relationships… the author captures the minute shifts in the way we relate to one another that force us to renegotiate our place in the world every day, if not every hour…a very good read. As a chronicler of domestic dynamics, Plebanek is up there with the best of them. This, the first of her novels to be translated into English, deserves to do well.’ A Year of Reading the World
‘A novel of deception, where all the main characters are playing games, at once trying escape their pasts but also continually being coloured by rootlessness and disruption.’ To Be Read
When Megi left for Luxembourg on business, Jonathan already had a childminder lined up. It was only so that he could go to the gym to get the strength for a Sunday full of paternal duties, he repeated to himself. He even took his gym gear but, spraying himself with his favourite scent, he no longer deluded himself – his body knew perfectly well what it wanted. He left, waving goodbye to Antosia and Tomaszek, unable to force himself to give them a hug. He was leaving them, going to Andrea. He felt contaminated.
There was a smell of incense in the church, candles blazed, but the pews were empty. Jonathan grew apprehensive. He had walked with a sure step but, in his mind, saw himself going home. Over the swirl of uncertainty, fear, excitement and lust drifted the rhetorical question, ‘What for? What for?’
But now, when Andrea had not come, he desired her with childish greed.
She emerged from the shadows of a pillar and a wave of heat ran through him as though he were a teenager. A few minutes later they were driving through the city in solemn silence. Jonathan had imagined many times what they’d do if an opportunity like this finally arose – Simon gone to England, Megi staying the night in Luxembourg. And now his fantasies dissolved, the glow of text messages extinguished. Erotic anticipation had turned into a barrier between driver and passenger.
He didn’t try to slip his hand beneath Andrea’s skirt. This was entirely unlike the times they’d met over the past weeks when, drunk with frustration, they’d caressed each other in churches, back streets and empty parking lots. Now, she stared at the passing brasseries while he, with the care of an old man, drove the car across the roundabouts of Ixelles.
Entering Andrea’s apartment, Jonathan was struck by the smell of Simon’s cigars and the gnawing thought that he’d never yet been unfaithful to Megi. Sometimes they attracted each other, sometimes repulsed, but until now he’d never gone with another woman, even though opportunities had arisen.
He stood there as if in a waiting room, shifting from foot to foot. Suddenly he felt Andrea’s fingers on his lips – and sucked them with the instinct of a newborn baby. She was familiar, tasted like a wild apple; she was unknown, the tart smell of her perfume excited him. Her lips were full, moist, her pussy warm.
She drew him on to her – for a brief moment they were still separate beings – but then Andrea wrapped her legs around his hips. Listening to her guttural groans, Jonathan climaxed and in his head clattered the startling thought, ‘What a relief, what a relief…!’