Fifty Shades of Grey – The book behind the hype

28 Jul

If you’re around my age (mid 30’s) you’ll remember “Forever” by Judy Blume.  You’ll also remember hiding in school corners with your girlfriends, reading naughty passages with secret curiosity while squealing with embarrassment.  Think of Fifty Shades as Judy Blume for grown ups.

The Fifty Shades trilogy was written by E L James (real name Erika Mitchell), a former TV executive who started out writing online fan fiction for the Twilight series.  One of these stories later formed the basis for Fifty Shades of Grey.  Published last year and followed by Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, the books are number one, two and three in the bestseller charts in the US and UK.  In the last three months, four million copies have sold in the UK in addition to the 15 million already sold in the US and Canada.

So that’s the phenomenon.  What’s the story?

The central characters are Anastasia Steele, a college student and Christian Grey, a high powered billionaire.  They meet when Steele interviews Grey for a student paper, sparks fly and they embark on a passionate and tumultuous affair.  Grey’s idea of an affair though comes with conditions attached.  Steele is inexperienced, strong willed and independent.  Grey is controlling, emotionally stunted and has a history of relationships with women as “submissives”.

BDSM (Bondage, Domination, Sadism, Masochism) is a key element of the books, with a Red Room of Pain part of Grey’s lavish home.  This aspect of the story has attracted the most attention and gained the books the title of “mummy porn”, a label which James describes as lazy.

I read the first book in 2 days flat (about the average time if my female friends are anything to go by) and was intrigued by the darker elements of the story.  The second book seems a bit lazier – Grey is losing his edge and the story feels like it’s been written just to get to the steamier scenes.  By the third book certain things were becoming repetitive.  There were far too many references to “his eyes grew darker” and “God, he was just so hot”, and it started to grate on me.  I still finished all three books though…

Fans and critics of erotic fiction have dismissed Fifty Shades as tame in comparison to other writing within this genre.  Other critics have derided James’ style of writing as clipped with poor grammar and unimaginative vocabulary.

In short, there’s been a lot of bashing of the books.

I can see what these critics are saying.  James’ writing style is quite jerky and fragmented and I’m sure there are far kinkier books out there.  But they are missing a key point.  The main crux of the books is a young woman fighting to win over and “cure” her lover with a dark past.  In a world where sexual boundaries are fading, we see unfaithful relationships in our personal circle as well as among celebrities.

In spite of the raunchy scenes and BDSM, the story of Ana and Christian is essentially a love story and any kinkiness is within the confines of a monogamous relationship.

Given that, is it that surprising that women have fallen for the books?  The BDSM is an added bonus and has brought an activity previously considered very smutty, into the mainstream.   Men have been known to thank James for opening their wives’ minds and apparently the most common purchase within the sex toy industry is now nipple clamps (blush).

Fifty Shades makes for compulsivereading.  Who cares if it’s not the most sophisticated read?  I’ve come across women who have never read a book but are racing through Fifty Shades. When did we become so snobbish about books?  As long as people are picking up a book and enjoying it, it works for me.

Now the most important question – who to cast in the film version?  Here are my votes for Grey and Steele!!

Robert Pattinson

He’s already played a vampire – surely Pattinson could play the controlling Christian Grey?

Ian Somerhalder

He has the eyes and the classically handsome looks – could Somerhalder be the film version of Christian Grey?

Anne Hathaway

Dark hair, pale skin and large eyes – she has the looks but could Hathaway pull off the role of Anastacia Steele?

Elizabeth Olsen

With darker hair, Olsen could be a brilliant Anastacia.


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