In her novel, The Proof of the Honey, Salwa Al Neimi gives her readers a character both to envy and to desire. Presenting itself as a collection of personal essays told by a candid narrator, the book details the story of one woman’s sexual philosophy, desires, and exploits in a culture that is historically portrayed to shun female pleasure.
The name of the narrator is never given. We know her gender (distinctly feminine), her profession (librarian), her nationality (Syrian expatriate living in Paris), and can make an educated guess regarding her economic standing (fairly well off). By the end of the story, we know intimate details of her sexual persuasion and cravings, but we never learn her name. As the story unfolds through this secretive woman’s first-person point of view, we travel through her private laminations on the state of female sexual suppression in the Arab world and her own personal journey through its winding path.
Bold, yet publicly silent, the narrator never shies from telling the reader her thoughts and opinions regarding love, lust, and the pleasures of the body. Her first words to the readers are:
Some people conjure spirits. I conjure bodies. I have no knowledge of my soul or of the souls of others. I know only my body and theirs. (p. 1).
The novel is comprised of her personal exploits (with a few smatterings of others she’s heard second-hand). Her first encounter with the erotic is similar to many girls and women, through literature. She reads the forbidden texts, devouring them as if they were scared scribings. Her thorough research of said documents is also kept private. Even as a young schoolgirl, when presented with one of these banned books by an older female classmate, she is silent when returning the text, despite the older girl’s curiosity. Eventually, by the time the narrator is an adult and well-established in her career, the taboo texts, as banned books are known to do, become fashionable and are openly discussed. Yet, her own practical experiments remain known only between her lovers and herself.
Her sensuality is, above all, a secret. She is resolute in her determination to reveal none of the passionate liaisons to those surrounding her. Even when presented with confessions of far grander misdeeds from loving friends, she refuses to confide her own transgressions. For her, there is no point in telling a secret because
[…] any secret that is shared is no secret. (p. 23).
The chapters appear as personal essays written by the narrator with the only link being her seeking, through research and implementation, knowledge of sexual pleasure. She delves off into short tangents occasionally, briefly discussing her views on feminism, the perspective of the foreigner, and the freedom being an expatriate has allowed her. But, none of these lasts long before she is telling another carnal story.
The lovers of the narrator are given arbitrary titles such as “The Thinker” or “The Traveler.” Again, names don’t matter in this story. The individual is part of something bigger.
The novel concludes with the narrator admitting the falsehoods she has told the reader, proving herself unreliable, though you already knew that. The language of the text is lyrical and honing, and of course, explicit. The narrator proclaims herself to be a lover of words and language, and Al Neimi leaves the proof in the pages. The novel is also a wonderful resource for those seeking more classic erotica literature, particularly classic Arab erotica, since the narrator name drops heavily throughout the entire book.