Fifty shades of wrong
Ana's subconscious - not to mention her inner goddess and liberal use of the word 'crap', seem not to be affecting sales of the best seller.
"I read four books while I was away!" announced my Mum last week upon her return from an overseas holiday.
"Oh yeah?" I said. "What did you read?"
"The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, and The Edge of Impropriety," she beamed.
It's fired up bedrooms around the world, so why does Fifty Shades leave Annabel Ross so cold?
I groaned. Other than the unwelcome knowledge that my mother had developed a penchant for erotic fiction, it was unsettling to hear that even she wasn’t immune to the 50 shades phenomenon. Mind you, I don’t know many women who haven’t read one of the books – the erotic novels by E L James have sold more than 8.9 million copies in less than a year.
I succumbed to the craze earlier than my mother – well, succumbed insofar as I bought and read the book, loading it onto my Kindle shortly before departing on my own overseas holiday a few months ago*. I was curious – the book was gaining traction in the media, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
Not much, as it turns out. Clearly, many would disagree with me, and E L James is still laughing all the way to the bank, but I haven’t read anything this poorly written since Twilight. Let me try to sum it up in my own Seven Shades of Wrong (there were at least 50 things that annoyed me about this book, but unlike James, I must be mindful of word count).
- Page 7 – “Double crap!” Anastasia announces as she almost takes a spill. Last time I checked, no one over the age of 11 said “Double crap”. It turns out that 21-year-old Anastasia is quite fond of the mild C-word, particularly ”Holy crap”, which is sometimes substituted for “Holy cow”, recalling Robin’s “Holy…!” catchphrases in the camp 1960s Batman TV series. “Oh my” is another favourite Steele utterance, often during sex.
- Early on, we are introduced to Anastasia’s subconscious. Popping up, I Dream Of Jeannie-style, as if an imaginary puff of smoke beside Anastasia’s head, the protagonist is constantly doing battle with her insecure, negative subconscious - and is forced to “slap her down”, among other things. Soon enough you’ll want to slap her too, don’t worry.
- The worst incarnation of Anastasia’s subconscious is her inner goddess – the one that’s high-fiving her with every perceived victorious move in her twisted relationship with Grey. Alternately sashaying, high-kicking, and doing the hula dance, it’s not long before I want to burn her inner goddess at the stake.
- Subtlety is not one of James’ strong points. Talking about what sort of music he likes, Grey says, “My taste is eclectic, Anastasia, anything from Thomas Tallis to Kings of Leon,” providing a nice little segue for Sex on Fire to come on the radio, to Anastasia’s wicked delight.
- When we finally arrive at the first sex scene, a fifth of the way into the book, I’m expecting the proverbial fireworks – the sex is what has sold 50 Shades after all. Instead, we’re to believe that Anastasia, a virgin, orgasms not once but thrice the first time she has sex, and the pain of a torn hymen is reduced to this: “’Aargh,’ I cry as I feel a weird pinching sensation deep inside me as he rips through my virginity.” Oh, COME ON.
- As if Control Freak Grey, as Anastasia herself describes him, hasn’t already established himself as a cold, domineering figure (he is the ‘dominant’ in the relationship after all), his unpleasantness reaches new heights when he starts telling Ana he wants to both hurt and possess her. “I want you sore baby,” he murmurs. “Every time you move tomorrow, I want you to know I’ve been here. You are mine. Only mine.” Ownership. That’s hot.
- Last but not least, the sheer length of the book will challenge even the most ardent followers of Ana and Grey’s tryst. After the initial long wait, there’s plenty of sex, but much of it dull**, repetitive and peppered with “Oh my”s. I was determined to finish what I started, spurred on by more to scoff at with every passing page, but towards the end I skipped to the unsexy sex scenes on more than one occasion. And to think there are two more lengthy Grey instalments to follow.
Here’s the weird thing though – I vaguely want to read them both. For all of the clichés, the disturbing emotionally and physically abusive relationship and the highly irritating heroine, there’s something strangely compelling about the book. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s so bad it’s good, but perhaps there’s some sort of perverse pleasure to be had in laughing at its awfulness.
Against my better judgment, I picked up Mum’s copy of the second book last night. My money’s on Anastasia’s inner goddess launching into a spot of post-coital Bavarian polka.
*One of the best things about e-readers is being able to hide your predilection for Mills & Boon/erotica/bestiality - whatever floats your boat.
**Again, many disagree with me about the sex, with lots of women describing it as “HOT! HOT! HOT!” and sex shops doing a roaring trade in whips and other BDSM materials featured in the book. Apparently, men can’t buy copies for their wives fast enough.