Fifty Shades of Fabulous

22 10 2012

Like every other red blooded woman on the planet, this summer I read “that book”.

Fifty Shades of Grey”, for those of you who haven’t read it (i.e. men), is the story of 21 year old Anastasia Steel who is seduced by wealthy CEO Christian Grey and drawn into a world of BDSM (Bondage, Dominance, Sadism, Masochism).

As a married woman over the age of 30, I fit the perceived demographic perfectly. However despite being dubbed “Mummy Porn”(and I should mention that I am ABSOLUTELY NOT a Mommy),  this book seems to have a much wider appeal than anticipated and has become the fastest selling paperback of all time. It is known for its explicit erotic scenes and despite its success it has received extremely mixed reviews.

There seem to be three main reasons for the widespread criticism of Fifty Shades:

1/ It is badly written.

2/ Some people find the erotic content to be in poor taste.

3/ It started as a piece of fan fiction based on characters from the Twilight series.

In my opinion – it is badly written. The friend who recommended that I read the series claimed that she had found dozens of typos and spelling mistakes; although I did suggest that she may not have been reading it right!

The storyline is a fairly standard format. It is basically a Cinderella story. A young virgin falls for a damaged millionaire who changes her life. Thematically there is nothing new here. The plot is fairly weak and the characters are stereotypical, the attempts to develop an emotional subtext are clumsy and predictable. Christian Grey has been emotionally scarred in his early childhood. But this does exploit a desire many women, appear to have to “fix” the men in their lives. We all want to bring something of value to the important relationships in our lives (romantic or not). Anastasia softens the character of Christian and helps him to trust her and gradually give up his need to control. However, the relationship between the two main characters develops too quickly and given the extreme nature of Christian Grey’s sexual demands of the virgin, Ana, it is difficult for a reader to suspend belief.

I have heard many comments about how tragic it is that this book has been so successful in comparison to more critically acclaimed works of fiction available. Personally I am an advocate of ANY material that encourages people to develop a love of reading, irrespective of genre.

The erotic content on the other hand is written extremely well. Critics argue that the sex is given higher priority than the storyline. A strange argument in this genre – in erotic fiction, isn’t the sexual content always prioritised over the development of plot and character? The sexual preferences are also far from conventional. So do the sales figures suggest that we all secretly yearning for a BDSM relationship of our own in which we either relinquish or assume all control, or is it simply harmless escapism?

It would appear that Fifty Shades has enhanced the sex lives of many ordinary women and due to the media hype it has certainly prompted much discussion about the politics surrounding sex and sexuality.  I have read some claims that the underlying message invalidates feminism. Surely feminism is the pursuit of equal opportunity in all aspects of life. Women and men alike have sexual desires and preferences that vary. Sexual acts between two consenting adults in the privacy of their own bedroom (or ‘red room of pain’ if that is to your taste), is not the sum total of a relationship, and a little fantasy role play can be perfectly healthy and not impact on other aspects of the relationship.

In the books, Mr Grey does attempt to dominate all aspects of Ana’s life; but she does ultimately assert her independence and sets her own limits that she finds acceptable and she often tells him when he has crossed the line. This seems to be a win for the feminists. My understanding of BDSM relationships is that the submissive partner retains control and can make use of ‘safe words’ when needed. Perhaps this is in some ways healthier and more open than ‘traditional’ relationships, as at least terms are agreed upon by both partners in advance.

The main reason that I can find for the widespread criticism of Fifty Shades is that it started as a piece of fan fiction and there is a degree of snobbishness from the bibliophiles amongst us. Let’s not forget that the plot of Fifty Shades has moved a world away from the characters and plot on which it was originally based and that modern technology has enabled us to be much better connected with the rest of the world and share our ideas in an immediate and public way it was inevitable that works of fiction that would otherwise pass under the radar have the opportunity to eventually reach mainstream audiences and what a massive compliment to established writers that their work should inspire other emerging writers. This is one of the amazing things about the World Wide Web. Getting a publishing house to embrace your work can be hard so reaching an audience in this way is a great opportunity for aspiring writers.

Many women I have spoken to have thoroughly enjoyed reading “Fifty Shades of Grey” though none have claimed to think that it is a literary masterpiece. I certainly enjoyed the series and have read other similar books since as it has provided me with a much needed escape route from the day to day mundane aspects of life.

I understand that Universal Pictures secured the rights to the trilogy in March this year – I for one will be in the front – or maybe the back row – depending on whether I can convince my husband to join me in the cinema an hope that literary masterpiece or not ‘Fifty Shakes of Grey’ can continue to titillate women the world over

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