Fifty Shades of Grey is the first book in the Fifty Shades trilogy by E L James. It has sold over 20 million copies worldwide, became the New York Times’ #1 Best Erotic Seller and surpassed Harry Potter as the fastest-selling paperback of all time. It is a story surrounding the blossoming of a romance between an English Literature graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a young multi-millionaire, Christian Grey… well, kind of. Putting it like that makes it sound very Mills & Boon when in fact, it is so much more.
I got sick of everyone talking with wide-eyed disbelief about this book that was apparently so addictive when they heard I hadn’t read it. ‘You’ve got to read it, you’ll be hooked’, I was told. All I had heard about the story was my mum’s reactions of ‘oh!’ on multiple occasions and, as she handed it over to me to read, her final review: ‘that was just porn.’ Not going to lie, that put me off a bit. Reading my mum’s second hand porn? Er, no thanks. Nevertheless, I was so intrigued as to what all the fuss was about that I sat down to read it and within 48 hours, I had finished. I haven’t stopped reeling since.
In a nutshell: a young, virginal university student goes to interview a young, enigmatic, gorgeous billionaire for a student newspaper. One thing leads to another and the chemistry between them draws them to each other on a very physical level. However, it doesn’t end there. Ana Steele begins to find things out about the world of sex that she never could have imagined as she finds out this man she is so entranced by, apparently the first man she has ever been romantically interested in, is into BDSM on such a severe scale that he asks Ana to become the Submissive to his Dominant. Not only that, but it doesn’t even have a happily-ever-after ending.
So what is it about the Fifty Shades series that has got people so hooked?
It’s not the storyline. Because there is no story. Boy meets girl, boy and girl have kinky sex, girl falls in love with boy, boy can’t commit to more than kinky sex, girl realises she doesn’t like kinky sex as much as boy, girl breaks up with boy.
It’s not the writing. Because the writing isn’t even that good. Descriptive, oh yes, but I swore to the heavens that if I had to read ‘my breath hitched’, ‘his head cocked to one side’, ‘Holy crap/Moses/sh*t/f*ck’ and ‘I flush’ one more time, I was going to give up. The only interesting thing about the writing is her exciting use of sexual vocabulary. More about that later.
It’s not the heroine. Because there isn’t one of these either. Anastasia Steele is by far one of the most pathetic and naïve protagonists I have ever come across in my whole literary life. She’s certainly no Modern Woman and ignoring the fact that she is sexually inexperienced, she is willing to be the submissive party in their relationship just to stay with him. Not only that, she agrees to wear what Grey wants her to wear. She agrees to call him ‘Sir’. She agrees to giving up three weekends out of four for him to do with her whatever he pleases. She agrees to be hit just so she can stay with him –Um, what?! She’s a mug; certainly no role model for girls of today. On a side note, she doesn’t even have her own phone or laptop at the beginning of the book so how she managed to graduate from university without these items in 2011 is beyond me.
It’s not the leading man. Although there is one of these and he does sound pretty fit and he’s got loads of money and his own helicopter, he’s the kind of guy you would want your best friend/sister/random female/yourself to stay the hell away from. He is possessive, jealous, abusive, emotionally unstable… the list goes on. He won’t commit to a relationship in the traditional sense, yet he expects Ana to be monogamous and he drums into her that she is his possession. He buys her a phone and a laptop to keep tabs on her at all times. She gets fed up at his constant need to know where she is –and rightly so– but still doesn’t do anything about it.
It’s not the underlying, deeper meaning. Because I can’t seem to find one of these either. Grey is a very complicated and mysterious man; that much is made clear pretty much from the beginning. However, Ana’s infatuation with him isn’t because she is emotionally enamoured with his personality or his brilliant mind. She is obsessed with his beautiful face and ‘the way his jeans hang on his hips’ (we’re reminded of that a fair amount, too.) They have chemistry and this book just goes into the gory details about exactly what this chemistry creates. Ana argues with her inner self throughout the book, with her inner goddess acting the devil and her subconscious the angel. Her subconscious speaks a lot of sense about how she should get the hell away from Grey if he gets his kicks from inflicting pain, but that’s about as deep as it goes… common sense and self-respect.
You might argue that the deeper detail to this book is Grey’s struggle to overcome his abuse as a child and adolescent and his quest to believe in love again. Because, to be fair, he does agree to try for ‘more’ than just the kinky sex… one day a week… What?! No. He’s still a chump.
So what’s left? Oh yeah.
It must be the porn. I am one of the millions of people who have read this book and –even though I was warned– have been shocked by the brazen, brutal description of a sexual fantasy that is very rarely talked about in broad daylight. BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism & Masochism) is one of those things that people accept behind closed doors and although there is material available on the subject, never has it taken off in the way Fifty Shades has. Fifty Shades of Grey is disguised as a love story fit to be read by everyone from teenage girls to grown men and its audience, just like the curiosity surrounding the book, just keeps on growing.
People are fascinated by sex. It surrounds us in everyday life; on adverts, music videos, everyday conversations and now best-selling books. Sex sells and apparently the more shocking the better. People are obsessed by what is considered ‘naughty’, and this book definitely fits into that category. On a more worrying note, this book is very easy to get hold of. On the Kindle it costs around £3 and there seems to be no glimpse of a disclaimer or anything to warn customers what they might be getting themselves in for. Anyone of any age could get hold of this book — I just really hope young people don’t use it as a how-to guide… just, no.
So with no storyline, an unhappily-ever-after ending, a rubbish leading lady and a fit leading man with plenty of issues, what does this book boil down to? Eight or nine sex scenes with floggers, restraints, blindfolds and spanking galore. And that’s all there is to it really. Read it if you want to know what all the fuss is all about, but if you want an interesting story, I’d suggest you stick to The da Vinci Code.