Thursday, 21 June 2012

50 Shades of - Is that even a phrase? (Spoilers)

So, to begin, I am aware that this book is already the subject of many a literary, and non-literary, blog at the moment as it has exploded in a BDSM flurry across the internet. I am also aware that this will probably not be the best run through of it you will read. Yet it will still be the subject of my first post because, unfortunately for you, 50 Shades of Grey, 50 Shades Darker, and 50 Shades Freed are the most recent three books that I have read. And yes, I did read all three, something I am attempting to blame on my recent graduation from a four year English degree and the delirium caused by sudden freedom from prescribed reading lists. 

This freedom led me to buy, on the kindle edition as I am not without shame, the three books by E.L. James. I read all three in the space of a week and a half, and flew through each astonishing installment of the relationship between Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. I use their full names in keeping with the style of the novels themselves. For Mr. Grey and Miss. Steele, this tactic often replaced dialogue itself, as who needs conversation when you have each other’s full names? Not Anastasia and Christian that’s for sure, whose verbal interactions frequently devolved into him touching his hair and her biting her lip, both actions that ended inevitably in kinky shenanigans on every surface, horizontal or otherwise.

Safe to say, there are issues with these books, the primary issue being that they began life as fan-fiction for the Twilight series, and an inspiration for good writing Stephanie Meyer is not. Both canons are filled with beautiful and unspeakably rich characters that have an alarming tendency to fall into mortal peril. Also, sex. The plot lines are essentially the same, starting with the emotional problems of the male protagonist, only overcome by the love of the female protagonist and ultimately completely put to rest by babies. Let me just get one thing out of the way; Babies do not solve relationship problems. Babies especially do not solve the problems presented in these books, for example if your boyfriend is a sparkling blood-sucking vampire who can barely contain his desire to kill you, or if your husband has a sexual desire to cause you physical pain because of deep-seated and unresolved emotional issues pertaining to child abuse. People who enjoy consensual BDSM relationships will probably have much more of an issue with the sex scenes in this book than I do, as the links between Christian's early childhood problems and his desire to sexual dominate women are uncomfortable at best, and not an accurate portrayal of a community that embraces a healthy expression of sexual desires.

To return to the books themselves, the only significant difference between 50 Shades and Twilight is genre. Instead of writing a fantasy book for teenagers, E. L. James writes what is being called “Mummy Porn”, two words I know I hoped would never be coupled together, allowing her to replace the numerous fade-to-black episodes between Bella and Edward with many, many, many sex scenes between Christian and Ana that are as explicit as they are, frankly, bewildering. Maybe it’s because I am not a connoisseur of the sexy book, or maybe it's because there are a lot of descriptions of inexplicable orgasms involving toes, but by the third book I found myself skipping the majority of the sexual interactions between the main characters and focusing instead upon the resolution of the plot. That is not to say that the plot itself was perfect. There was a heavy reliance upon coincidence in the over-arching story line, and the interactions between the characters were consistently repetitive without any sense of moving forward. Declarations of love are bandied about with such frequency that they start to lose weight by the end of the third installment, there are only so many different ways to say “I love you”, but James effectively covers them all.

However, despite all of this, I will admit that I couldn’t put the bloody things down. They are surprisingly gripping, possibly not for the right reasons, but gripping nonetheless. It is understandable that they have been such a success as they are incredibly easy to read (if you successfully silence your inner voice of reason) and as trash to read on holiday you could do worse. Having said that, you could also do an awful lot better.

Do read: As a festival of frivolous smut

Don’t read: In public