A Book on Desire, Most Difficult to Tell

Katherine Angel

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Download Image Katherine Angel Unmastered

Available Formats


One of O Magazine’s Must-Read Books for June 2013

A provocative and personal meditation on sex, power, and female desire

Today’s women, we’re told, have more options in exercising their desire than ever before in history. And yet the way we talk about desire is virtually as constrained as it was for the Victorians. There’s an essential paradox at the heart of female sexuality: What we demand in our public lives is often in direct contrast to what we crave in our intimate lives.
     In the tradition of Susan Sontag and Virginia Woolf, Katherine Angel has forged a path through cliché, convention, and secrecy, and the result is Unmastered, a searching and idiosyncratic account of her studies in sex as an academic and of her experiences of sex as a woman.
     Unmastered isn’t merely personal confession; it is also a powerful reckoning with our contradictory and deeply entrenched notions of sexuality. Angel embraces the highly charged oppositions—dominance versus submission, liberation versus dependence—and probes the porousness between masculine and feminine, thought and sensation, self and culture, power and pliancy, always reveling in the elusiveness of easy answers.
     With remarkable candor, Angel reflects on the history of her encounters and beliefs, and shows how our lives are shaped by the words we use and the stories we tell. The result is a revelatory book that examines and then explodes our most deeply rooted assumptions. Lyrical, brave, and sometimes disarmingly funny, Unmastered will start a thousand debates.

Connect with the Author

Katherine Angel

Official Sites

Related Links

Sign Up for
Author Updates

Macmillan Newsletter

Sign up to receive information about new books, author events, and special offers.

Sign up now

Book Excerpts

Read an Excerpt

Nearly ten years ago, in that sweltering summer, that heat wave summer, when to walk just half a mile meant a sticky sheen of sweat, I developed a phobia of moths.
*   *   *
I had never liked them, my nervousness shaped no doubt by my mother’s fear of the things. Her brother used to breed huge African specimens in their East Anglia home; they would fly up at her, startled, out of her shoes, her bedclothes. And then there was a teenage summer spent in a Gothic pile in France, where hordes of angry bees rattled behind the chimney,

Read the full excerpt



Praise for Unmastered

“Offers an arresting mix of diaristic experiences with her lover . . . and heady reflections from feminist thinkers like Susan Sontag and Virginia Woolf. A genre-busting nonfiction account that reads like poetry, revels in ambiguity, and intentionally defies definition, the book explores the slippery emotions of sex in fiery, collage-like scenes intended to reconcile the contradictory ‘metaphors we love by.’”
O Magazine

“Unconventional, deeply personal . . . often poetic.”
The New Yorker Page Turner blog

“Angel embraces the impossibility of extricating fact from feeling.”
Julia Klein, The Boston Globe

“Poetic . . . Sharply truthful, musical, and beautifully patterned . . . An act of cultural resistance, and a book you immediately start to reread.”
Adam Foulds, author of The Quickening Maze

“Absorbing . . . [A] vigorous testament to a female libido undaunted by the cold shower of self-analysis.”
Talitha Stevenson, The Guardian

“Ghostly and poetic . . . [A] thinking woman’s meditation on sexual desire.”
Publishers Weekly

“[A] provocative and profoundly personal investigation into female desire . . . It’s hard to overestimate the riskiness of these passages, their courage and their exquisite sensuality . . . But the real joy lies in the artfulness with which [Angel] uses these intimate episodes as a way of unwrapping the larger issue of what it means to be a woman, both object and subject of desire . . . Unmastered is a giddily joyful book . . . Days after reading, its images linger in the mind . . . [An] elegant and uplifting journey through the labyrinth of female lust.” 
Olivia Laing, The Observer

“Katherine Angel’s Unmastered stayed in my head for weeks after I read it. It’s brave, moving, and perfectly structured.”
Sam Byers, author of Idiopathy

Unmastered is an intriguing literary and cultural study . . . Erudite and personal . . . The strength of Ms. Angel’s writing . . . makes the book seem both universal and intimate at once.”
The Economist

Unmastered is one of those totally out-of-the blue, impossible-to-classify, weird and new and wonderful fiction-ish nonfiction books, which happily come along every so often and make you go, ‘Whoa: this is what we need now’ . . . A libidinous thrill all of its own.”
Stuart Hammond, Dazed & Confused magazine

In the Press

Work in Progress » Blog Archive » Unmastered: On Writing for Myself
I am often asked how I wrote Unmastered. Sometimes, I am asked how I went about getting it published. Mostly, I feel a bit stumped—almost embarrassed—by these questions, because in truth I don’t quite know how to answer them. But I like trying to answer them, because in my gropings and squintings back at the years that led up to its publication, I have started to understand a bit more about how I write.
- FSG's Work in Progress

Reviews from Goodreads


About the Author

Katherine Angel

Katherine Angel is a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for the History of Medicine at Warwick University. She has written on sexuality, pornography, and the relationship between culture and desire for The Independent, Prospect, and The Observer, among others. She lives in London.

Katherine Angel


Reading Guide

Organizing a Reading Group


Get the Guide

Download PDF

Tell Your Friends


Find More Books

Go to Website

Stay Updated

Sign Up

Buy the Book

Available Formats and Book Details

A Book on Desire, Most Difficult to Tell
Katherine Angel


Farrar, Straus and Giroux
June 2013
ISBN: 9780374280406
ISBN10: 0374280401
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches, 368 pages, Notes

e-Book Agency

e-Book Agency
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
June 2013
e-Book Agency
ISBN: 9780374709884
ISBN10: 0374709882
368 pages, Notes

From The Publisher

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Latest on Facebook

Latest on Twitter