How does a book that is long, boring, repetitive and ridiculous become the fastest selling paperback of all time?
That is exactly what has happened to British author E L James’s 50 Shades of Grey, which has already sold 10 million copies worldwide – and it’s rising. Now we have men reporting on a daily basis regarding the number of women they have spotted reading it. In fact, the number of men counting women reading it will probably also exceed the 10 million statistic.
Billed as an erotic novel, it tells the story of college graduate and virgin Anastasia Steele, who falls for the richest, most handsome man on the planet, Christian Grey. He dresses fantastically, he has a fantastic smile, perfect teeth and everyone loves him.
There’s only one tincy wincy drawback: Christian is heavily into BDSM which, for the uninitiated, is Bondage, Discipline, Sadism and Masochism. Oh, drat. Wouldn’t you know it. There’s always a catch.
I won’t spoil the er, treats you have in store, should you wish to waste your money on this tripe, but let’s just say that if Christian were to buy you a bunch of red roses, he’d throw away the petals and stab you with the thorns.
He draws up a contract for Anastasia, setting out the terms for their relationship: in essence, she must be submissive in all things and he dominant. She must keep herself fit and healthy at all times and not snack between meals.
Hang on a minute, mate. No snacking? Maybe it was a misprint in the text and meant to read “no smacking”, which would make more sense. But not even a bag of Cheerios as a reward for being chained up before supper?
The book, which is the first of a trilogy (oh, yes, there’s more, alas – still, they might prove to be good book ends), is being dubbed “mummy porn”. The audience seems to be largely made up of married women over 30 who, for whatever reason, find this stuff erotic.
To be honest, porn is putting it a bit strong, and as for the sado-masochistic elements – well, there’s a lot more hard core stuff out there. But maybe that’s the key: it’s fantasy, with a bit of violence thrown in, but still sex taking place between two consenting adults. Well, until Christian whacks Anastasia’s backside very, very hard with a belt and she dumps him. Oh, drat, I’ve gone and given away the ending.
The ending confuses me a bit. Not long before said thrashing with belt, Christian has cuffed Anastasia to a cross he has constructed in his “Red Room of Pain” (trust me – he’s no Laurence Llewelyn Bowen) and whipped her privates. She rather gets off on it (as she does on quite a lot of beatings – she specially enjoys bath-time), although quite why she was okay with the cross and the shredded clitoris and not with the belt is anybody’s guess.
It’s not the BDSM part of the book that worries me – I’ve read far more erotic stuff and much harder porn – it’s the fact that so many women are devouring the material. The basic message it is sending is a fairly traditional, Mills and Boon one: all women want is a handsome, rich man and their life will be complete – certainly, a handsome, rich man who also happens to be an ace lover and the ideal candidate to pop your cherry.
People can do what they like behind closed doors, and BDSM is hardly a new phenomenon, but the idea of the submissive woman, surrendering not only her sexuality but her whole life, to satisfy a bloke’s every whim is, quite frankly, abhorrent.
Forget 50 Shades of Grey; this book sets the clock back 50 years for women. But it’s even being made into a film. The script is being written by Brett Easton Ellis, who wrote American Psycho (now that really is a disturbing, strangely erotic book) and will doubtless prove as popular as the novel.
Speculation is rife as to who should play the leads. Whoever they choose, they had better be good friends and, in the case of Anastasia, have no allergies to leather or masking tape. The film should also come with a warning: Don’t try this at home. Or, if you do, make sure you have a paramedic’s number to hand.