Is there anyone on the London Underground who isn’t reading one of the books from the Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy either self-consciously on good old-fashioned paper or in delicious secrecy on their iPads and Kindles? Or rather anyone female, I should say, because I am yet to see a man getting his kicks on the Central Line Westbound before his 9-5, by reading about the depraved goings on in Christian Grey’s “Red room.” Fifty Shades of Grey is now officially the bestselling book in Britain, ever, having topped 5.3 million sales. It really is staggering. Staggering at least to me because having read the first in the series, I am amazed that like Anastasia Steele, female readers seemingly keep going back for more punishment. However, suspending my own disbelief for a second, I will try to determine why Fifty Shades of Grey continues to have its wicked way with the British public.
It seems that women are searching for a new literary icon– a modern man who will induce unrealistic expectations of the male sex in all female readers and make finding “Mr Right” an impossible task. How many men have been rejected the world over because they failed to live up to Mr Darcy’s reputation? Yet literary heroes are often less than perfect themselves. Mr Darcy was surly and proud and Heathcliff was obsessive, violent, bordering on psychotic.
Christian Grey meanwhile, is handsome and charming, as well as being an extremely successful and obscenely rich entrepreneur. But he is controlling and cold, making it quite clear to Ana that he doesn’t “do” girlfriends and love. This of course is all horribly ironic because it is mentioned early on in the book that Ana is still a virgin at 21.
The fact is that good girls have been attracted to the bad boys since time immemorial. The fantasy of an innocent but beautiful girl being whisked away by an older, experienced man who knows what he wants is absolutely nothing new. Fifty Shades of Grey is merely following an ancient and successful blueprint. And surprise, surprise Mr Grey has emotional baggage too (no doubt all of it expensive and matching).
Of course Ana believes that she is the one, among all of his female sex slaves, who can change him and his unconventional lifestyle. This is the bait that reels in the readers! This is erotic fiction masquerading as romance. It isn’t that female readers want to feel submissive themselves. On the contrary, they want to watch Miss Steele “bewitch” and “beguile” Mr Grey into forgetting all about spanking, whipping and hot wax for a second and succumb to her superior feminine powers and settle down.
It is unsurprising that Fifty Shades tops the list of books left in hotel rooms, because after indulging in a little fantasy there is no need to read it twice. The prose is repetitive and the dialogue is as cheesy as it gets.
The dialogue in many scenes had me laughing out loud, but do you know what? I like the fact that E.L. James doesn’t take herself seriously, which is apparent through Ana’s interior monologue, where she broods about her “inner goddess” and offers such insights as, “I am naked in a bath with Christian Grey. He’s naked,” and “We’re talking about cheese…Holy crap.”
It also comes as no surprise to find out that Fifty Shades started life as a piece of Twilight fan fiction. I can’t help but picture Kristen Stewart’s wooden face every time Ana trips over or bites her lip. Which is approximately 3786874 times in the first chapter alone. And similarly to Twilight’s Edward, Christian has an uncanny and profoundly unsettling ability to suddenly appear in her bedroom uninvited.
Despite what I have written thus far, I am not a literature snob. I am all in favour of so-called “low literature.” I would much rather see people reading Fifty Shades of Grey on the tube than playing mindlessly on their iPhones. For women who are busy, it is the perfect book to dip into (it only ever takes an impressive ten lines for Ana to reach orgasm). It is modern technology which has been the books’ biggest champion. The internet allows you to recommend books to hundreds of friends at the touch of a button and your friends can purchase the books at just the same speed. The ability to read whatever you want discreetly in e-book form also means that more women have been able to test out the previously unchartered waters of erotic fiction for the first time. More power to them.
If you still haven’t read it and curiosity has finally got the better of you…
Here we go, from one friend to another: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Fifty-Shades-Grey-E-James/dp/0099579936/
As for me, I think I’ll be leaving my copy in the nearest Travelodge.