Thursday, 19 July 2012

#297: Fifty Shades' Fuss

Consider this a public service blog post.

I’m going to tell you all you need to know about Fifty Shades of Grey, the book still riding the wave on the New York Times' bestseller list after almost a year.  I have finally finished the story, so now we can consider if this is a book that might interest older readers.

First, though, I must point out that the book  has nothing to do with mood swings,  paint chips or hair colouring.  (My 38 year-old daughter told me she thought it was about geriatric sex.  She was right about the sex.  There is a lot of sex.)

In fact, you could look upon this work of fiction as a beginner's guide to kinky sex, and read it the way you would gastro-porn.  You probably have no intention of ever cooking with insects, but you might read Creepy Crawly Cuisine in fascinated horror, just to see how it's done.

At bottom, though, E. L James’ blockbuster is nothing more than a standard, erotic romance novel with a side of consensual S&M.  And for sure, women of all ages are finding it interesting in spite of the fact that the protagonist Anastasia, is a youngster, a naive 21 year old with a degree in English and a job in a hardware store.  When she meets wealthy 27 year old, handsome-beyond-words, bossy Christian Grey,  the attraction is immediate and reciprocal.  She is an eager virgin, and he is more than willing to show her (literally) the ropes. 

Does Ana demean herself by entering into this unusual relationship?  I don’t think so.  She is  compliant, but complicit and (in spite of her "sub" status) always in control.  Besides, James has simply tapped into a very familiar literary archetype: the innocent maiden attracted to the powerful, mysterious, charismatic man.  (Think Jane and Mr. Rochester or even Bella and Edward.  Loads of older women were captivated by Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, about an ordinary teen and the hunky vampire who desires her and only her.)  The appeal of these (and similar books) is powerful, perhaps because they speak to some primal, fairy-tale desire to be consumed by passion.  Women of all ages seem to love these stories.  I still fondly recall the elderly lady who read every book in the library that featured sexy pirates and pretty captives.

Be warned, however: you will not be reading 50 Shades for its literary style. (One would think English major Ana could do better than “Holy crap!” when expressing amazement, as she does so regularly.  And that's just for starters.  Ana and Christian's mannerisms are so limited and predictable --endless combinations of lip-biting, eye-rolling, stern expressions and steely gazes-- as to be laugh-out-loud funny.)  But for a primer on basic bondage and (painful) ecstasy, this story is probably as informative as Screw the Roses, Send Me the Thorns, a book I once purchased for our non-fiction collection -- and much more entertaining.  I was sure I would give up on Ana’s adventures in S&M Land after the first few chapters but I was intrigued and curious about the eventual resolution.  Even a badly written book can be fun to read.

If you decide to join the all-ages parade to see what the 50 Shades fuss is about, I’m happy to tell you that the book is now available in...... *drum roll*....... Large Print!  As for the rest of the paraphernalia, I recently went to volunteer at the retirement home and noticed a big sign in front of the nearbye Love Shop:  FIFTY SHADES OF GREY:  WE HAVE BOOKS AND ACCESSORIES!  Talk about convenience.  Nevertheless, I probably won't be picking up the book (or anything else) for my older readers -- not unless they request it, of course.   


  1. It's causing a stir here in NZ, too. I think I'll skip it as my reading list is very long.
    Apropos this book, a car paint shop on our way into the city advertises 50 shades of grey.
    You will understand that in a city of black clad workers, fifty shades of grey could seem rather radical.

  2. That is so funny! Very Wellington.

    I returned my copy to the library yesterday and there were still 180 holds!