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Sex and Lies Reviews

Sex and Lies by Leila Slimani

Sex and Lies

Leila Slimani

3.75 out of 5

7 reviews

Imprint: Faber & Faber
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publication date: 20 Feb 2020
ISBN: 9780571355037

The first work of non-fiction in English from the prize-winning and internationally bestselling author of Lullaby and Adele In these essays, Leila Slimani gives voice to young Moroccan women who are grappling with a conservative Arab culture that at once condemns and commodifies sex.

  • The GuardianBook of the Day
4 stars out of 5
Aida Edemariam
12 Feb 2020

"The Moroccan-born writer of Lullaby returns to north Africa to explore sex, pornography and hypocrisy"

In the end, perhaps knowing that, like Joumana HaddadMona Eltahawy and other increasingly prominent feminists from the Arab world, she will come under fire anyway, Slimani trusts in her outrage, in the force of her own voice, and the voices of the women she listens to. And in her argument, which is for individuality, nuance and intellectual honesty, and in favour of Morocco finding its own answers to the issues it faces, rather than adopting western ideas wholesale. She’s also for listening, for talking, for bringing damaging secrets into the light – if only, as a reader of Qandisha, a feminist webzine based in Casablanca, put it fervently, to “make me feel less mad”.


4 stars out of 5
15 Apr 2020

"(a) short, powerful book, superbly translated by Sophie Lewis"

As long as a woman’s body is still controlled by society, as long as her virtue is a public matter, as long as she is the “guarantor of family honour, and worse still, of the nation’s identity”, she cannot be independent of the patriarchy. Slimani scorns the French intellectuals who accuse her of “opportunistic Islamophobia” or of peddling Orientalist stereotypes. In this short, powerful book, superbly translated by Sophie Lewis, she has written a stirring call to arms for Moroccan women to experience what she has fought for herself: “the right to think for oneself”, what she calls “the most monumental taboo of all”.

3 stars out of 5
Alex Peake-Tomkinson
14 Mar 2020

"There is plenty of horror here"

In the same way that Lisa Taddeo’s bestselling Three Women, published last year, was criticised for showing only a partial view of female sexuality (the women were all white, under 40 and predominantly straight), one can’t gain much of an overview of Moroccan women’s sexuality from these pages. Perhaps because the stories are told in the women’s own words, they don’t live in quite the same way as Slimani’s fiction does. But the author deserves credit for giving a voice to those for whom ‘just being myself is activism’.

4 stars out of 5
Elif Shafak
26 Feb 2020

"These women are not victims and Slimani is careful not to portray them as such"

Unfortunately, in a world full of xenophobia, racism and sweeping generalisations about the Other, it is becoming harder and harder to have nuanced conversations. But this is exactly why we need to have open debates. Gender inequality and sexual subordination are not side issues. They are at the heart of everything. We must confront this taboo, this injustice and inequality, that affects the lives of people – men and women – in so many untold ways. For that I salute Leïla Slimani for writing this important, honest and brave book. 

4 stars out of 5
23 Feb 2020

"Leila Slimani bravely portrays accounts of extra-marital sex punishable by law"

It’s risky to jump in and pretend to understand – “both” can easily become “neither” when it comes to identity – but risk is Slimani’s middle name. She is teaching us to be intersectional feminists, which is a fancy way of saying your empathy should reach past your own self-interest to the interest of those who are different to you. And if you’re really free, then exercising that freedom is no risk at all.

4 stars out of 5
Lucy Knight
16 Feb 2020

"Leila Slimani has a knack for breaking taboos"

Homosexuality, nonmarital sex and abortion are all illegal in Morocco. Even being seen in a public place with a partner is punishable. That’s not to mention the societal pressure, often from their families, that most Moroccan women are under. While this is not the first study of female sexuality in Morocco, Sex and Lies is well executed: the novelist paints vivid portraits of her interviewees. But whether Slimani’s efforts will effect change remains to be seen. After its French publication in 2017, Sex and Lies caused something of a stir in Morocco, but the laws remained unchanged.

3 stars out of 5
14 Feb 2020

"It is remarkable that Slimani avoids any exploration of the role of the Moroccan authorities in perpetuating the inequalities she abhors "

At the time Moroccan human-rights activists identified the scandal as the latest in a series of cases in which the authorities seek to intimidate the press by targeting journalists over transgressions in their private lives. While Slimani is outraged by Raissouni’s treatment, she makes no mention of the politics surrounding it. This is in keeping with the book as a whole, which does not lack for passion and which raises legitimate questions — yet is nonetheless weakened by a narrow focus that often neglects context, history and politics. The result is a culturalist reading of Morocco that has little to say about how women’s freedoms can be enhanced. That is a shame as it is a subject that deserves real examination.