Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Sweet Valley High meets the Story of Oh My!

I like reading porn and erotic fiction and - guess what? - I've just read the first two books of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. Why? Because I'd heard about their success is why. I was curious and thought they'd be worth a try. Reader: I will not be reading the third. It's a damn shame that once a thing gets talked up enough many more people will try it even though it is shit. While it's generally agreed that you cannot polish a turd, you could certainly sell one if enough people wrote about it. Here's why I think Fifty Shades of Grey is indifferent, boring writing, a waste of your time and money and - worse still - propagates some very bad ideas indeed.

This is a story about a lonely, virginal young American woman called Ana. Ana likes reading and 'England'. She finishes college and moves to the city to take up a junior position in publishing (a mostly dull industry which, for some inexplicable reason, the uninitiated think it is interesting to work in). While these things are happening she meets and falls in love with a young, billionaire businessman, Christian. He has issues. At first he only wants her to be his submissive but she holds out and he ends up falling in love with her too. Christian and Ana heal and complete each other and have lots of sex, some but actually not much of which is kinky.

If you pick up these books for the sex scenes, be prepared to trudge through an almost endless mire of bland, muddy narrative. Somebody should simply extract the sex (or maybe just some of it because it's pretty repetitive), the kink and the bits about the dominant/submissive contract. Jettison the rest.

The sex writing is adequate. I mean, there's loads of toe-curlingly badly written so-called erotica about but there's plenty of good sexy writing out there too. A quick stroll to my bookshelf: straightaway there's Nancy Friday, Esparbec, Story of O and that's just the first three I see. So don't read Fifty Shades for the sex in it: I've read worse but there are many better and the sex is the only thing I can even slightly recommend.

The author, E L James, really drags it out. Good lord... just like the Twilight films did (I watched two of those before giving up, my will and interest exhausted). If you want to get to the really kinky stuff (assuming there is any) my guess is you're going to have to read the third book. For example: there's no anal until 90% of the way through book two (no, I no longer do page numbers: I'm reading on a Kindle)! I understand the concept of delayed gratification but my gratification was delayed too long and then I no longer cared.

Turgid story-telling aside, there are more compelling reasons why Fifty Shades should not be read:

First, I don't know why I find this quite so offensive - it's such an old chestnut after all - but a good proportion of the narrative is about how fabulously wealthy Christian is: his apartment, his helicopter, his cars, his staff, the clothes and gifts he buys Ana. It's a materialist wank-fest of STUFF. The only way in which these books are pornographic is the way they dwell on the wealth and good looks of Christian, as seen through the eyes of Ana.

Secondly, the Fifty Shades books have been called porn for the over-30s. I do hope this is the case. I really do hope this is true, or at least that no women read it who are too young or innocent to know that wanking does not spoil you for real sex with real people. Ana is a virgin. She has never masturbated. Her body is unawakened. Yet she is instantly and effortlessly multi-orgasmic, coming like a pro right on cue. I'd love to meet a woman for whom this was true but I'm not sure she exists. If she does she is in a very tiny minority. Don't we have enough in the way of performance anxiety to contend with without this tabula rasa idiocy? Isn't fantasy supposed to make us feel better about ourselves, not worse? Not that I do, of course... ahem.

Next, for a book about BDSM, Fifty Shades strikes me as pretty kink-negative. The source of Christian's sexual sadism and his need to dominate is the abuse he suffered as a young child. The blame laid squarely on his neglectful mother, a young sex worker with substance misuse problems who is murdered by her pimp. She is referred to sympathetically throughout the book as 'the crack whore'. That's lovely.

Finally (and I'm running out of steam here because I hate writing long blog posts) the other thing that really sticks in my throat with the Fifty Shades books: it's the monogamy thing again. Christian is violently jealous and possessive of Ana. In turn she is violently jealous and possessive of him, to the point of unreasonableness and stupidity. Their extreme, territorial behaviour is presented as good evidence of the strength of their love for each other. Ana and Christian turn each other into possessions and relish in their mutual ownership. They doubtless deserve each other.

I can't bear to find out how it ends - and neither should you.


  1. Oh thank goodness you wrote this - I've been baffled about how so many people can possibly think this book is any good.

    Turgid, irritating, misleading. And that's when it's not being downright offensive. I got 60% through the first book before I stopped bothering to actually try and read it and just flipped through looking for the sex scenes.

    Ana and Christian are two of the most unlikeable characters I've ever come across. Such a shame that lots of women’s first foray into erotica will be this tripe!

    1. Yeah, me too, although on a Kindle it's click, click, click... and I actually read the second book!