By positioning Echo’s newfound grief and desire in houses opposite each other, Vogel reifies the interdependence of emotions, and the fact that you often can’t choose what you wish to confront. In Permission, everything is sensory, led by Echo’s physical perception of the world. She recalls watching “the spread of nude women” across the beach as a ten-year-old; the “pleasing tension” of a sea cucumber as its muscles contract and the “gentle suction of an anemone’s tentacles” as she sticks her finger in the water. Grief is similarly palpable. Her mother smokes cigarettes concealed in a jar marked “garlic”, putting wet paper towels filled with ash in the outside bin. Just in case her husband returns, she leaves no trace: she’d promised him she would quit. When Echo sees her leave an ashtray on the table, it is a tangible betrayal.
Echo plies her trade in the lower tiers of the California film industry, and the controlled artlessness of Vogel’s prose stye befits this setting. There is something of the hammy intensity of made-for-TV movies in the hackneyed phrases that crop up now and then: “It was a day like any other”; “How different it all could have been”; “That sinking feeling”. This faux-naif register belies a subtle and emotionally capacious novel. Vogel’s portrayal of sexual kink is particularly refreshing: rather than pruriently gorging on catharsis, Permission foregrounds the emotional intimacy – built on constancy, trust and compassion – that can flourish in the most unconventional relationships.
It’s the debut literary novel from a journalist and translator, and it deals with sexual politics, power and consent in a subtle and convincing way. The story is effectively a kind of love triangle, but more complex than that phrase implies... Given the subject matter, Permission could’ve been sensationalist or titillating, but Vogel negotiates her story with a real sense of empathy and understanding for all her characters. In precise, elegant prose, she delivers an alternative feminist love story for the modern age.
It takes a while to realise that Saskia Vogel’s quietly subversive debut novel, set on the fringes of Hollywood, is a story of domination and submission because it challenges any preconceptions you might have about BDSM in literature... The desire for domination or submission is shown from a woman’s point of view as well as a man’s, and Vogel employs an exact emotional language. It is tender without being sentimental so that the whips and paddles become part of a modern-day story of love, loneliness and healing... Mature and self-assured from the first line (“The hills were sleeping giants, twitching as they dreamed”) to the last, Permission is sometimes a dark, even gruelling, read. But it possesses an unshowy beauty, too, suggesting Vogel is a gleaming new talent.
In her elegant and compelling debut novel, the American writer Saskia Vogel sets about taking down the patriarchy, the Hollywood dream machine and the prejudices against people who are into BDSM...Vogel brings a unique take to the subject in Permission. She is a gifted writer who can make any topic interesting