Book Review of ‘The Naked Collection’ by Sally Dali.
By Duncan Heenan, May 2016
This book is figurative ‘A Curate’s Egg’, i.e. ‘good in parts’. That expression is drawn from the story of a young Curate who, when staying with a Bishop, was served a boiled egg for breakfast which, when cracked open, turned out to be bad. When the Bishop asked him “How is your egg?” the Curate, not wishing to cause a fuss, replied “Good in parts, sir”.
‘The Naked Collection’ is a compilation of 4 self-published short booklet/essays, all by the same author; ‘Being Naked’, ‘Still Naked’, ‘Naked In Winter’ and ‘Happy To Be Naked’. I bought it on an impulse as light reading to take on holiday and within a few pages realised that I had fallen in to the trap of buying a book based on its title and a low price.
Each of the component works is essentially the same – the author’s personal memoir heavily laced with lengthy and repetitive expositions of her philosophy of naturism, which amount to the fact that she loves to be naked and loves to tell people about it. He memoirs reflect this in that she has led an unremarkable life except to the extent that she has dedicated most of her adult life to finding ways and places to get naked, leading her eventually to give up her life in England and go and live at the French naturist resort CHM Montelivet, where she now shows signs of boredom and scrapes a living working as a booking agent for some of the accommodation. As a component part of her story, she is very open about her rather active bisexual love life but spares us the detail, and so avoids it becoming a ‘mummy porn’ story; but it may earn her some disapproval from readers who espouse monogamy. However, Sally Dali (a pen name) claims not to seek approval however, either of her love life (which forms a fairly small part of the books) or of her ‘obsession’ (her word) with naturism. She says she just wants to express to the world how wonderful naturism is, and why we should all try it.
Where the book failed, for me at least, was its lack of real content. We are told that she loves to be naked, and there are a few attempts at explaining why, but they all boil down to ‘I just do’. But, because she has so little else to tell us, she repeats it many times with very little variety in how she says it. Maybe she doesn’t trust the reader to understand or remember what she said, but to those of us who did, it is annoying. In effect, each of the component booklets is in itself a repeat of each other, with a bit of extra diary added, so having written each as a stand-alone I suppose some repetition is inevitable, but as well as taking out the repetition in each booklet, editing it down to produce a single volume would have produced a less tedious (and much shorter) work to read.
In reading her various accounts of her naturist philosophy and her various observations and comments on the world of naturism, I found myself agreeing with a lot of what she said (I have been a naturist of sorts for about 50 years now), though it would have to be someone fairly new to that world who would actually learn anything. Though she is wholly committed to nudity, especially her own, she admits it is ‘not for everyone’; and yet she seems critical of people who are not prepared to bare as readily as she does. She also tells us that in naturism we find a world where there is greater body acceptance than in the textile world, but she is also often disapproving of the old or overweight people she observes. She classes herself as young (37) and attractive, so one wonders whether her view will change when she is no longer either. There is also a somewhat contradictory obsession with her own weight, reminiscent (in that and her love life) of Bridget Jones’ Diary, but without the humour.
One expects a high degree of self-regard in any autobiography or personal philosophy, but Sally Dali goes beyond this, and comes over as downright narcissistic. This would be annoying enough, but when the various ways this is expressed are gone over again and again it tends to cloud out the parts of the book which are worth reading – and there are some. In contrast to her self-confessed enjoyment of being looked at, Ms Dali only includes one, fairly modest, photograph of herself in the book, whereas there are black and white photographs of (mostly) young attractive women in most pages, usually having nothing to do with the text. One suspects a commercial / exploitative motive in this, but there is no hypocrisy here, as she tells us many times that she likes looking at young attractive women herself.
Towards the end of the book she devotes a few pages to passing comment on various naturist resorts and beaches she has visited, which is of passing interest, but her list is very limited and gives hardly any useable information, and so is no kind of a guidebook. I felt this was a lost opportunity to inject some real content.
If Sally Dali were to find some good content, I feel she might produce some good work, as her writing style is quite good, and certainly easy to read. I hear that she has produced some short stories, but I doubt if I shall sample them now, as ‘The Naked Collection’ has put me off. Maybe I should have given up after the first couple of chapters; read them and you’ve read the lot really.
To sum up, the book made me feel as if I had been handed a nice looking decanter, only to find that it was empty, so I remained thirsty, disappointed and a little resentful. However my time spent reading it (less than a day) was not wholly wasted as I did so lying naked in the sun, which was more enjoyable and more memorable than the book – which I have now donated to the resort’s library.