Banned from libraries, hidden under mothers’ pillows; yet straining the shelves of WHSmith and the most sought after read of the moment, EL James’s book ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ sold its 10 millionth copy last week.
A tale of an unorthodox love affair between a college student and a wealthy CEO, James started writing her novel on the internet, as a breed of fan-fiction similar to Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Trilogy.
The characters are pretty much the same – a cold, emotionally disturbed, over-protective male besotted with a boring girl – but James’s get to have sex. Indeed, really what James has done; is given us a fornicating version of Meyer’s vampire Edward Cullen and girlfriend Bella Swan.
Cullen becomes Christian Grey; a 27-year-old billionaire, who though doesn’t drink blood, has the equally exciting secret that he’s into BDSM. Swan becomes Anastasia Steele, who, like Bella, is awkward, dull and somehow manages to bewitch the gorgeous man of her dreams. How she does this, is never satisfactorily explained – she just does.
This is the main problem with the book; being fed information that is completely and utterly unrealistic. What makes erotica erotic is realism, the feeling that it could happen – which stems from a belief in the characters and the sense that they could exist. Anastasia Steele, the 21-year-old college student, is both our heroine and our narrator, and she could not exist.
I was 21 last year, and I can tell you that a 21-year-old girl does not refer to her sub-conscious as her ‘inner-goddess,’ she would not have a ‘quicky’ in the boat-shed when trying to make a good impression with parents and she is as likely to use the expression ‘Holy cow’ as a Hindu is to eat one.
I decided to check this, just in case I was an anomaly, and I asked twenty contemporaries their views – not one of them would do any of the above.
The second problem with the book, was with its main driving power, what has led it to be dubbed ‘mummyporn’ – yes, I had a problem with its sex scenes. So really, I had a problem with 2/3rds of the book.
Christian is into BDSM, Ana is a naïve virgin – the perfect combination for some saucy, kinky and volatile liaisons. Unfortunately, even if you believed the liaisons would happen, the sheer amount of copulation between the two, makes even the most erotic encounters dull. It’s just so predictable.
In fact, the whole book could really be broken down into the following cycle: Christian’s angry with Ana, Christian’s happy with Ana, Christian and Ana have kinky sex, Christian and Ana have sex again, Ana has an ‘earth shattering’ orgasm, Christian’s angry with Ana…
There’s absolutely no suspense – no sooner has Ana entered the room, than Christian has already bent her over and given her a good seeing to. There’s no Jilly Cooper build up, let down, build up, that yoyo’s our emotions before we get the climatic (and climax filled) consummation. Take, for instance, The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous, think of Flora and Ranaldini in the maze – now that’s how you should write a sex scene.
The final issue, which really links back to realism (or lack thereof), is with the contract. Christian wants Ana to sign a contract that entitles him to have complete control over her – what she wears, what car she drives, what she eats, how much exercise she does and of course, their sex life. The problem is 1) the amount of time spent deliberating the contract – which isn’t even legally binding and 2) Ana’s (a virgin don’t forget) apparent blasé reaction to the sexual terms within it, which include genital clamping, vaginal fisting and flogging.
Ana has read the terms and conditions of the contract, spends the whole book deliberating them but only realises that Christian is a ‘sick bastard’ when he spanks her a bit too hard. I mean really? I’d have thought that his fetish for ‘vaginal fisting’ might have given that away?
It took me a day to read James’s absurd erotic novel and it was the first time that I’ve ever finished the first book in a Trilogy and had not even the slightest interest in reading the sequels. It was not only trashy but it was truly terrible – or in Ana’s words, a load of ‘Holy, double, triple crap.’
Hats off to James though – I may be able to criticise her prose, cringe at her metaphors and despair at the ridiculousness of her heroine – but I haven’t produced a best-selling Trilogy and made millions…yet.