I almost felt obligated to download “Fifty Shades of Grey” and find out for myself what all the hype was about. Even women who never read anything other than a recipe have bought and consumed this hot item! The creation of E.L. James, a British television producer, mother of two, wife of 20 plus years, it is the first in a trilogy billed as adult romance. Originally marketed as an e-book and print-on-demand in June 2011, Fifty Shades of Grey has been flying around cyberspace and off book shelves at an unprecedented velocity, outstripping the sales of the Harry Potter series to become the fastest selling paperback of ALL time. The movie rights have also been bought for $5m. Women are claiming the book has reignited the spark in their relationships!
I’m not really familiar with this genre of novel which has been described as “Mummy Porn” (is there a separate kind for childless women?) with sales supposedly driven by frustrated middle aged mothers, accompanied by reports of marathon trilogy reading sessions. However, in the meantime E.L. James has seen her net worth soar to a cool $15m plus and is now listed in the Time 100 as one of the most influential people in the world. The book has opened up a new and open international debate about female sexuality followed by a cross over into the male market. In the recession hit book sector, stores are seemingly thrilled!
Fifty Shades of Grey is a sort of Pretty Woman meets 91/2 Weeks. It’s really a classic love story interspersed with sex scene descriptions. Lots of them. But although there’s a vocabulary lesson and a lot of talk about it all, most of the potentially extreme racy scenarios actually don’t materialise. It becomes an old fashioned racing pulses and bodice ripper, of the variety that could have been written by Shirley Conran, Anais Nin or found in the steamier section of Mills and Boon, with soppy texts and cute emails. Basically, it’s the age old question will there, or will there not, be love?
The story recounts the sexual awakening of shy, inexperienced, university student Anastasia Steele and her burdgeoning relationship with handsome, business billionaire Christian Grey. At 27, had it not been for Mark Zuckerberg the Grey character would have seemed barely credible, but for reasons that perhaps I missed, there is an instant frisson. Seemingly the mere act of Ana biting her lower lip is enough to throw him into a frenzy of sexual desire. He pursues her to assume the Submissive role to his Dominant in a BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, Masochism) relationship. This is where the talk of what she’s not going to do and vocab test comes in. Anastasia is also something of a stretch herself - a Gen Yer or even Z with no lap top, smart phone or email address? Come on!
Despite the somewhat repetitive, mediocre prose (“holy cr$p” appears every other page), predictable hint’s at Grey’s scarred and dark childhood and many references to Anastasia’s inner goddess kicking in, it’s actually readable and even amusing in parts. I do confess to not taking in every word as I have a limited attention span for detailed descriptions of coursing hormones and responding body parts. However, Anastasia turns out to be quite feisty and the inner dialogue she has with herself over the predicaments she faces is mainly a sensible one. I’m sure a lot of this goes on in college dorms anyway and at least in a billionaires bedroom there’s a laundry service.
The book has been the recipient of some scathing reviews from the feminist press regarding the inappropirate and possibly demeaning misogyny of the domination/submissive elements, as well as concerns for the potentially negative impact on today’s youth. Fifty Shades of Grey seems to handle these issues in what appears to be a balanced, safety conscious and almost neutral way, placing those aspects in a wider consensual view of individual psyches, experiences and desires. Grey himself had assumed the submissive role in a previous relationship and Ana we find is a skilled and spirited negotiator. So your call if you see the massive popularity of this book as a worrying regressive trend of women wishing to be dominated or the liberation of their hithero fettered sexual expression.
This is erotica written by a woman for women, going global and mainstream. If it helps start up dialogue within jaded relationships which have lost their sparkle, I’m not sure that it can do any harm.
Will I read the other 2 books? Probably not, but I did laugh while watching SNL’s Fifty Shades of Grey skit, and thought you might as well.
What do you think?