Jane Cornwell’s Whirl a memoir of sex, drugs and travel

Growing up, music critic Jane Cornwell would stare out the window of her family home in suburban Melbourne and watch horses gallop through paddocks across the road. Eager to be just as wild and free, she left Australia behind. Her extensive experience travelling the world is chronicled in her memoir The Whirl: Men, Music & Misadventures.

Marketed as a transgressive and transient quest for love, Cornwell’s book reconstructs her post-university days, in a flurry of beats and booze, E’s and wizz, as a young expat in Britain. Later in life she lets loose learning salsa in Cuba, buzzes at a bacchanalian goat festival in Greece and gets the warm and fuzzies at WOMAD in Wiltshire. It’s all a bit of fun. But all of these chemicals are mere chasers to her central vice: a whirlwind of male lovers.

From bed-breaking tantric sessions in Los Angeles to awkwardly comic descriptions of genitalia, the sex comes across as surprisingly tame.

Most problematic is her encounter with Winston at a tourist resort in Jamaica. “Sex with a hot black man: nothing wrong with a bit of mutual exploitation,” a hedonistic young Cornwell decides. Blurbed as the chapter in which a “Jamaican gangster” gets her “stoned on a beach cliff-top in Negril”, the detailed encounter is a far more dire and disconcerting: “Could no mean no, after I’d said yes, yes, yes? … ‘I’m really sorry,’ I said. ‘I’ve changed my mind. His erection mocked my timing.’’

Stumbling back to her villa in a stoned post-coital stupor, Cornwell internalises the blame: “I knew I had to sort my shit out.”

Cornwell writes that “feminism spoke to me often”. That it said, “You can have it all”, but something fundamentally went unheard. For a book about the exciting life of a successful music critic, with its sexual freedom and rejection of institutions such as marriage and motherhood, many of her decisions are deferred to the men around her: “ ‘You could write a book,’ said Albert. ‘About your adventures,’ said Patrick. ‘About us,’ said Noel.’’

Read more at The Australian.


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