So I finally made it to the end of 50 Shades of Grey (50SoG). I feel like I need some kind of therapy, well a spa day at the very least.
A friend convinced me I should read it on the basis of don’t knock it until you try it and in fairness I was starting to get more than a little tired of the endless conversations about its merits or lack thereof.
Maybe there was something to it, after all it had topped the New York Times Best Seller List and sold more than 40 million copies.
It took me until about page 6 for my brain to start aching from the adjective abuse and at that point I stalled in my reading but a long weekend of wet weather gave me the opportunity to pick it up again.
By the time I reached the heroine’s snarky subconscious with her repertoire of moves which included back flips and mambo, my brain was doing more than aching, it was screaming for me to make it stop.
My understanding of the functions of the subconscious or unconscious mind is somewhat at odds with E.L. James, so much so that I looked it up on Wikipedia to see if I had got it wrong; I hadn’t:
Unconscious thoughts are not directly accessible to ordinary introspection, but are supposed to be capable of being “tapped” and “interpreted” by special methods and techniques such as meditation, random association, dream analysis, and verbal slips (commonly known as a Freudian slip), examined and conducted during psychoanalysis.
The arrival of the heroine’s chatty Inner Goddess was just about the end for me and we hadn’t even got to the sex yet. The one phrase which has lodged, like an unwelcome visitor in my head, uttered regularly by our hero (who seems to have a remarkably lax work ethic for a 27 year old magnate, of which I am sure Sir Alan would definitely not approve), is the unfortunate, “Laters, Babe.” I live in dread of finding myself repeating it. I do wish though, I had found the lanes of Interstate 5 leaving Seattle to be as uncluttered as our lead-footed heroine with her need for speed.
Essentially aside from the short elements of prose joining together the sex scenes, the book is pretty much as it has been described: Mommy Porn. Although I suspect there are far more people than just Moms reading it.
The litany of failings in this novel is long; the author breaks just about every single rule in the How to Be a Novelist 101 book. Everything as writers we are told not to do is all here, every reason we can paper our walls with rejection letters exists within this book, from the woeful grammar, one dimensional, all too unbelievable characters and the paucity of the plot line (even the will she/won’t she tension? is resolved pretty quickly; she does). There is no single answer to account for the success of this book in my mind; curiosity, accessibility, ubiquity all have their part to play certainly. I believe the novel gained wings by word of mouth and curiosity fuelled its flight. I will never be an apologist for 50Sog but what I will say is this, I believe the writer created a page turner in the same way that other highly successful (Dan Brown) authors have done before her. Maybe it is simply a product of the reader hoping that sooner or later the story line will truly deliver or whether we read on in the hope of a happy ending, I don’t know. What I do know is that it is a rare day when I will sit and read a book pretty much from cover to cover. Maybe that says something about me that really does need therapy to understand.
Maybe I just needed mindless entertainment, perhaps that’s what, from time to time, we all need. Something where we forget the implausibility of the plot, the massive coincidences, the anatomically perfect (and wealthy) hero, not to mention his admirable stamina and lose ourselves in the story —for all its faults.
I do struggle with the pain is pleasure aspects of this book so perhaps entertainment is the wrong word to use for it as far as I’m concerned, but what people do to each other in private is their own business. I have no idea how accurately this element of the book has been portrayed. Neither do I write erotica, in fact I can’t say I’ve read a great deal either so I guess that establishes I am no expert. I am however, very interested in what the success of the book says about the society in which we live and what we are prepared to accept in order to achieve our entertainment. Would a novel so badly written be as successful if covering a different subject matter? Would readers have brought it in their droves if it didn’t explore a form of sexuality that for many has been somewhat of a mystery? Have we become so jaded and satiated by other forms of sexuality which are readily portrayed in films and on TV that we must now explore it in its other extremes?
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions but I will certainly be interested to see what E.L. James follows up with. Will I continue with books 2 and 3? I suspect not, my curiosity is well and truly satisfied.