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Review: Sally Ashton's 'Controller'
Review of Sally Ashton's novella 'Controller'.

Review of Sally Ashton’s Controller.

With the ever increasing popularity of eroticism within literature it is becoming harder and harder to figure out what is worthwhile taking the time to read. From the outset, it is clear that Sally Ashton’s debut novella Controller published by Dead Ink definitely is, as she explores themes of sexual desire, art and punishment through the first person narrative of an artist’s model.

Ashton’s narrative manages to capture a reader’s interest from the first page as they are immediately drawn into the world of young traveller Laura as she finds herself working in Spain as a life model for an art class. Ashton’s protagonist creates an immediate connection with the reader as she nervously awaits her first modelling session. The bold, unflinching language makes the scene almost tangible, down to the sweat on Laura’s thighs and the taste of vomit on her lips, helping to create a stark image of the environment.

This same daring writing style is prevalent throughout the novella and becomes more disturbing as Laura is drawn deeper into the world of sexual tension and control between the model and the artist, Eric, who treats her as an object through whom he accomplishes his art. This objectification is constantly addressed, whether Laura is being ogled by a class full of art students, or used to exact painful artistic fantasies for a single artist. Her treatment at the hands of others comes to change her views on life and the way she views the Spanish town in which she is living and the people around her.

Ashton’s use of introspective writing gives the reader a constant connection with Laura’s feelings and desires and creates a disjointed narrative which often borderlines on stream-of-consciousness. Ashton’s writing style can at times be confusing and seemingly out of sequence, but ultimately allows a deeper insight into Laura’s confusing world and is particularly effective when exploring the themes of pain, control and sexual exploitation.

The novella presents very little spoken interaction, even between artist and model. This is largely due to the foreign culture that Laura is immersed into, and the language barriers which are often an issue for her, highlighting her isolation. The only emotional connection depicted in the narrative comes from her relationship with another woman, Bea, from whom she receives comfort. This is the only relationship explored in which Laura is not objectified in the name of art or sexual gratification, and therefore comes as a welcome change from the darker connections that are addressed within the narrative.

Overall, then, Controller is an interesting and engaging story, uniquely written and well worth a read. Sally Ashton’s unyielding writing style draws the reader into the dark narrative and keeps them gripped from start to finish. 

Natasha Williams is currently studying English and Contemporary Media at Cardiff Metropolitan University.