So everyone has been talking about this book endlessly, and let’s be honest it has become a bit boring, probably due to the abundance of titillated women getting all hot under the collar over what, exactly? But I feel the need to join the debate. The camps seem to be divided between fifty shades of bullshit and the almost militant lovers of Mr Grey. And it reminds me of the reaction to Twilight, which is fitting since it is fan-fiction.
I may seem a hater of the book, but I cannot deny I did buy and read all of them, and they did entertain me as my summer holiday reading, and I will probably read them again. They are an amusing read, the sex isn’t as outrageous as people seem to perpetuate, it’s not your run of the mill ‘vanilla’ as they call it, but it isn’t anything to be shocked of appalled about. I think the problems lie in the over-hyped reaction, it does not deserve to have sold faster than Harry Potter, it has its place but it is not as big a deal as it has become.
As it is a work of fiction, we do have to suspend our disbelief a tad which I don’t think all readers do, the physical biological realities of being a sexually active woman are completely avoided, in favour of a passion filled fantasy. It is a fantasy, but is that so wrong in a book clearly meant to be enjoyed but not taken too seriously?
It is also clear that insufficient care has been taken when writing the books, the vocabulary used for example is limited, particularly so for a trilogy! There’s an almost childish reluctance to use the word penis, and since it has been dubbed ‘mummy porn’ this seems ridiculous. James does try to include every sense in the saucy bits which is good, as it makes it a bit more realistic but this is her only attempt. The story does seem a bit rushed however, and the blatant references and parallels between Fifty Shades and Twilight bothers me, since it seems an attempt to make a work of teen fiction grown up, and if so has failed.
The depiction of BDSM is also a reason for criticism, I don’t mind that it’s a very tame example as it is meant for the middle section of readers and does not claim to be extreme or even a truthful example of that world. Branding it as a novel about BDSM would be wrong, as it is simply an erotic romance story. But the idea that the only reason someone would be into this world is because they are emotionally and physically scarred from their childhood is utterly ridiculous and has no foundation in psychological study or research, but rather it is as much a product of fantasy as the rest of the book. The offence that this insinuation has doubtlessly caused is an issue James cannot avoid and I am surprised it was published knowing the inevitable repercussions. People who enjoy BDSM whether as dominants or submissives are not automatically damaged, no more than those who enjoy nothing more than ‘vanilla’ sex, and this impression should be rectified by the author.
As for the feminist arguments that it degrades women, I disagree as frankly if some women enjoy being submissive in the bedroom then that’s their business. So long as no one decides this means they should always be submissive elsewhere I can’t see the harm. The book doesn’t claim all women want this, and I think it is significant that the female character debates with herself over whether or not she should go through with it, as most women would, rather than rushing to degrade herself to please a man. Isn’t the women’s movement about freedom of choice? And to my mind choosing to be submissive is as acceptable in a woman as choosing to be dominant.
I don’t like that the gifts he gives her and his lavish lifestyle are so prominent in the book, but perhaps these elements are as much a fantasy as the sex? And as such are harmless, although it does diminish my personal opinion of our author and heroine. I also dislike the way it is written, Anastasia Steele’s ‘inner goddess’ is infuriating and clichéd and does nothing more than bother me. Although I do praise it for being mainstream enough to open people up to sexual experiences they may enjoy but otherwise be to embarrassed to try, and for helping to reduce the taboo of BDSM, even if it is so very tame. Perhaps it will save a marriage or two.
All in all the book has its place, it is good for a holiday read or for the train, it’s entertaining but not life shattering and I don’t mind that, sometimes you just want to read something easygoing. But the number of flaws with it mean I cant help but be bothered by the amount of success its had, particularly when compared to the relative lack success of other books infinitely better, it doesn’t seem fair. Although I recommend it for its purpose I fail to understand readers who have been so blindly loyal to it and ignored the multitude of flaws. The success of the Fifty Shades Trilogy seems to me to be a product of marketing and the impact of the internet, rather than off the back of the work itself.