50 Shades of Grey: The Uncut Analysis
Anyone who criticises 50 Shades of Grey as being bad literature is missing the point entirely as far as I am concerned. Speaking as an established erotic writer whose first best-selling collection of erotic stories – Quiver – came out in 1995 (and subsequently Tremble and Yearn), I speak with some authority and a great deal of experience of watching various fashionable waves of ‘erotic’ literature hit the shores of the ‘female body corporate’.
We had the escort/prostitute autography in the 1990s then we had the ordinary-woman-swept-up-in-the-swingers-world, and now we have the romance meets S and M genre.
But the difference is both the fantastic timing of the release of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, the real arrival of the kindle and the very suave understanding of the zeitgeist of global western female psychology E.L.James has displayed. This, and the follow-through of the massive and insidious marketing campaign, is propelling sales faster than a speeding bullet – or, in Mr Grey’s case the whistle of a whip.
I’ll start with the plot – in times of extreme economic stress for most women young and old (remember, women are the first to lose their jobs, the first to get pay cuts etc) what better fantasy than a gorgeous young entrepreneur who appears magically (and for no good reason except that you might look like a good potential victim) and who then takes entire responsibility for your fiscal, professional and sexual needs. All you need to do is to lie back, with your hands tied and have orgasm after orgasm – while he supplies the sex, the cars, the clothes, the publishing house! (saw that coming fifty pages in!) and the food! (I found this a little weird frankly – I mean I also guessed Christian Grey had been starved and whipped as a tiny child as soon as he refused to take his shirt off and was obsessing about Ana’s eating but it did make me wonder about the author and whether she had eating issues – which was not a turn-on.) The sad part for me was the realisation how many women must love this idea of someone else taking control of their destiny and spoon feeding them everything – actually it kind of fitted in with those web sites of young girls unabashedly advertising for aged billionaires to keep them. Maybe scenario for fourth book James?
I have certainly yet to find a heterosexual male who’s read these books and enjoyed them – I’ve been asking – I’ve found a few who’d started but couldn’t be bothered to continue to read. I’m prepared to be contradicted – I’d even welcome it. I suspect 50 Shades of Grey is a little too soft-focus and romance orientated for your average straight male. It’s also a little repetitious in its sex acts – always basically the same activities and the same two protagonists – absolutely nothing there for the bi-curious or gay reader, and certainly, the author’s understanding of big business was non-existent, no research evident. Men tend to like accuracy.
E.L.James certainly owes a lot to previous erotic fiction – certainly innocent young girl who stumbles her naïve way into wealthy gentleman’s dungeon is extremely well trodden ground – From The Story of O through to Justine – it’s an erotic cliché and far better handled and imaginatively executed (if you care about good prose) in both those books. Also the erotic descriptions, settings and actual sex acts are much more visual and steamier.
In fact I would file FIFTY SHADES OF GREY under romance, not erotica, which is why Mills and Boon have jumped on the bandwagon (and to be fair have almost been there for several years). I am personally more interested in promoting and writing a new genre of erotica – the Cliterary* (thanks to Mrs Lockhart for this genius new word). The thinking’s woman’s erotica which is both sexually stimulating and literary – as well as insightful.
But finally I would like to thank E.L James and congratulate her on both her extraordinary timing and for, finally, making a genre I have been writing for decades mainstream. Long may you prosper (and at this rate you will!)
* Cliterary – Erotic writing that is both sexually stimulating and literary.