I’ve done it. I’ve jumped on the bandwagon, albeit slightly too late, and purchased a copy of what is now the best selling book in British history. When I say purchased a copy, I actually have downloaded a copy onto my iPad, and I know exactly what I’m getting into by the ‘customers also bought’ section which leads me to ‘Bared To You’ and ‘The Joy of Sex’. Indeed, E.L. James’ ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is, at its core, acceptable erotica. Erotica that doesn’t suffer the seedy reputation of pornography, and the book-reading public have lapped it up in their droves. I decide to jump head-first into the pool of the ‘Fifty Shades’ phenomenon to address my questions.
“I don’t make love. I fuck…hard” Mr Grey exclaims within the first one hundred pages. I know if I were to ever know anyone who had a tendency to make such remarks, they’d be laughed out the room or arrested. I continually find myself just wishing that Mr Grey and Anastasia would stop taking themselves so seriously. The two main characters may have wild sex and live scandalous lives; but they waste a lot of time worrying and getting emotional about it all. It’s like watching an alternative ending to ‘The Dark Knight’ in which the Joker apologises and they all go for a nice dinner to talk over their issues in a calm and adult manor. The punch packed by the X-Rated shenanigans of our two sexually-charged protagonists is somewhat muted by the revelation that he’s had a tough past and that she’s not really sure if she wants to indulge in the S&M lifestyle after all. Oooh; raunchy indecisiveness! The book also presents the email exchanges between our two main characters; something that is so dull and boring that you wonder how on earth anyone could get any sense of sexual gratification from it, except maybe sexually frustrated Microsoft Outlook enthusiasts. That’s before we even hit the frankly hilarious sex scenes.
At one point, Mr Grey likens his sexual partner to a village fete, declaring her “open”. Another time, he asks Anastasia to “become well acquainted, on first names if you will, with my favourite and most cherished part of my body” as he is “very attached to this”, effectively likening his sex organ to a family pet. Throughout most of the book’s more erotic moments, what lacks in sexual chemistry is made up for with oddly-phrased catchphrases. When Mr Grey cries “How far can you go?” mid-sexual act, it’s as if he’s likening his moment of intimacy to an impressive formula 1 race or long-haul flight. Even more laughable is Mr Grey’s awarding of “an A in oral skills” to Anastasia; it’s as if E L James has been looking for her sexual metaphors in a Year 8 German speaking lesson. What tips me over the edge is Mr Grey’s admission that he was involved with a “crack whore” at some point in his life. E L James has raided the cliché cupboard and she’s used everything she can think of. Of course we’ve had the S&M and the swearing, now all we need is the classic “crack whore” to gain a Top Trumps set of smutty literature.
What amuses me most about E L James and her wonderful creation is that she spends a good nine and a half pages detailing the contract that poor Anastasia has to sign. Forget student housing contracts, or filling in forms for your 16-25 railcards, this contract is without a doubt one of the most depressing and disturbing documents you will ever have the misfortune of coming across (excuse the horrendously smutty pun). Highlights of the said contract include a section entitled “Appendix 2” something which details that their agreement will involve nothing involving “fire play” or “animals”. Forgive me for thinking this contract sounds more like the final contractual demands of a world-class trapeze artist joining the Cirque du Soleil than anything seedy or sexual. Another highlight involves “the submissive… not look(ing) directly into the eyes of the Dominant except when specifically instructed to do so”. I don’t know about you, but I’d find it extremely hard not to look at someone when speaking to them; it would just be like a strange, overly-long, sexually charged marathon game of something that slightly resembles childhood classic ‘Wink Murder’. What next?! S&M ‘Guess Who’?
I was truly intrigued to see what all the fuss was about when I picked up ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and began to emerge myself in the world of the two main characters. At times it was engrossing, at times confusing, but always amusing. Firstly, Anastasia and her catchphrase of “Holy Cow!” is so ill-placed in this book it sounds as if Lizzie McGuire’s animated alter-ego has popped up for no apparent reason. Secondly, the strangely pitched sex scenes make everything sound so pedestrian and dull, especially when one word is used so often it loses all sense of it’s original meaning. “Shall I fuck you this way, or this way, or this way?”; “How Shall I Fuck You” and “Please Fuck Me Christian” are all wonderful examples of the overuse of this word. At times it feels as if they’re planning an assembly of an IKEA flat-pack nightstand, not a sexual encounter. However, my personal favourite was “I am fucking him”, on page 234. IF YOU HAVEN’T GOT THAT BY PAGE 234, I FEEL YOU HAVEN’T BEEN PAYING ATTENTION DEAR READERS OF FIFTY SHADES. In fact, EL James uses this word 117 times in her 444 page marathon of a read, averaging out at a rate of once every four pages. Phew.
The funniest thing about the Fifty Shades saga, however, is the hilarious mountain of merchandise it has spawned off. Roll up, roll up for your ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ bed sheets and charm bracelets! Make a wonderful fashion statement with your ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ tee-shirt. Heck, why don’t you get some ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ writing paper and stationary?! Look at the reactions of bemused family members as you use them to thank various grandparents and elderly relatives for Christmas and Birthday presents. Talk of poor Hermoine Granger (aka Emma Watson) taking on the role of Anastasia in the film adaptation of the said best seller have also dominated new stands worldwide; the Harry Potter wand jokes will be unending! The best, however, must be the plans for a Fifty Shades tourist attraction, set in none other than Stratford-Upon-Avon, the home of arguably the founding father of modern literature as we know it, William Shakespeare. Imagine the Royal Shakespeare Company having to deal with competition from a rival ‘Fifty Shades’ sex-fest on its front door. “We believe the ideal person for this role may have a background in acting, tour guiding or as a holiday rep.” the organisers bark. Imagine; a character with tendencies to indulge in S&M being played by a Pontins entertainer with a tendency to break out into ‘Agadoo’; now that is something worth seeing.
If your only criteria in casting worldwide sexual icon Mr Grey is “a background in tour guiding or as a holiday rep”, then I feel the people of Stratford-upon-Avon are going to be sorely short-changed. Excuse me whilst I mop my brow; the raunch levels are too high to handle.