I love a bandwagon. So I jumped on Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James without hesitation.
There’s a few reasons people are getting in a tizz over this book and I’ve done my best to sum them up –
Firstly, FSoG started as fanfiction. Fanfiction is broadly defined as stories about characters or settings written by fans of an original piece of work. Works of fan fiction are rarely authorized by the original work’s author or publisher. They are also almost never published. Which is why the publishing world is getting their knickers in a twist over FSoG.
A few years ago, E. L. James posted a novel called Master of the Universe on a fanfiction site. It retold Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight* with X-rated scenes. In the original, Bella Swan meets Edward Cullen, wealthy, good-looking but with one ‘issue’ – he turns out to be a vampire. In Master of the Universe, Edward is a wealthy, good-looking sex evangelist. Master of the Universe has been reborn as FSoG (which in itself is a reason people are getting snippy – FSoG’s publisher, Vintage, has played down the fact that FSoG started as fanfiction. But you be the judge – check out this comparison.)
I’ve watched author Jennifer Weiner’s tweets about FSoG with interest. She’s uncomfortable with the whole thing but couldn’t really put her finger on why. It came down to this – “Other authors I have talked to about FSoG’s provenance are concerned. Does this mean anyone can take characters we’ve created out to play?” and “Claiming that FSoG owes nothing to Meyers’ books — or her fans for their support — might not be illegal, but it doesn’t seem right.”
Moving right along, FSoG has raised all sorts of debates around erotica/ ‘mummyporn’/ feminism. There are a million articles arguing these issues from all angles so I won’t rehash what has been written. That said, for a funny account of why we should be for FSoG, read this piece in the Huffington Post. I also enjoyed a man’s review of FSoG – basically, it’s all porn to him – “’50 Shades of Grey”‘is not a good book in the same sense that a monster truck is not a good car: in both cases the art is in the deviation, and the audience’s collective roar in response.”
So, putting the issues of provenance to one side, what’s Fifty Shades of Grey like?
I haven’t read much from the ‘erotica’ genre but I’m pretty sure it’s not written to make me laugh-out-loud. Fifty Shades of Grey did. The absurd use of language and the constant references to the main character, Ana’s, subconscious and inner-goddess were hysterical. For example –
“And from a very tiny, underused part of my brain – probably located at the base of my medulla oblongata where my subconscious dwells…” (there are at least three more references to Ana’s medulla oblongata).
“You beguile me, Christian.”
“I feel a paradigm shift.” Really? What was it on the Richter scale?
“‘I brought you here,’ he says phlegmatically.” Romantic, no?
Please! Someone hide E. L. James’s thesaurus!
If FSoG ever gets made into a movie, Ana’s subconscious and her inner-goddess will have starring roles. The props department will also have to find Ana a suitable ‘equilibrium’ and a ‘psyche’ –
“Desperately, I scrabble around for my equilibrium.” *Where is my equilibrium? I know I put it somewhere!*
“I slap it down instantly, mortified that my psyche is having ideas above its station.”
Although it’s tempting to share all the hilarious high jinx that Ana’s subconscious and inner goddess get up to, there are simply too many references. As well as kicking, imploring, pursing their lips, mocking, “metaphorically screaming”, tapping their foot in frustration, yelling, sneering , laughing, swooning, dancing and sitting in the lotus position, you’ll find –
“My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves.”
“My subconscious screams at me. My inner goddess is doing back flips in a routine worthy of a Russian Olympic gymnast.”
“My subconscious swoons and passes out somewhere in the back of my head.” *Might that ‘somewhere’ be near your medulla oblongata, Ana?*
“My subconscious scowls at me… fucking – not lovemaking – she screams at me like a harpy.”
“My subconscious has reared her somnambulant head.” *Bingo! Thesaurus and subconscious together in one outing.*
Am I being a snob in finding these descriptions so terrible that they’re funny? Perhaps. Anyway, there were a few saving graces. The email exchanges between Ana and Christian were often quite witty – it’s a shame James didn’t apply this sharper writing style to the rest of the text. I also liked the fact that Ana didn’t take herself too seriously – there were plenty of bits where Ana says to herself “Holy crap! That flogger looks scary!” and “Hell! He’s been working out!” (or words to that effect). Readers can also be thankful for the fact that James spared us any reference to the “love mound” or “mound of Venus” – things in that department were pretty much correctly anatomically referenced.
Mention must also be made of Ana’s mother and her advice to Ana regarding men – “In the back of my mind, my mother’s often-recited warning comes to me: Never trust a man who can dance.” Huh. I think there might be some truth in that… I’ll file that one away!
I could go with a cliché and pair this book with oysters or a similar aphrodisiac but I’m going to instead pick out one refreshingly accurate detail in the book – Christian’s preference for Hendricks gin. I also prefer Hendricks.
1/5 – it was terrible but I’m not sorry I read it.
* I’ve read the Twilight series. Again, books that don’t fall into my usual reading genre. I’m not afraid to say that I loved Twilight. It was ridiculous but it was also romantic. And Meyer redefined ‘stringing out a moment’!