It’s months since I first heard about “Fifty Shades of Grey”, the recent publishing phenomenon. As you might expect, anyone who gets a result with self-publication tends to catch my attention. So it was the story of the book’s success rather than the story itself that I was interested in. Of course it would be hard to ignore the subject matter entirely. Whilst books about sex aimed at women are nothing new, it’s been a while since they have been in the public eye and the soaring sales of hard-wear and sex toys have been headline news.
So the publicity grew and the book went from something you might download surreptitiously onto your kindle to being stockpiled in WHSmith’s for Ilkley’s gentile ladies to snap up with their newspaper. Lots of people told me that it was rubbish and that they would never read it without ever having opened its cover. That alone was enough to spur me into action and so I acquired a copy and began.
The first five pages are awful. There’s no getting away from it. I read them and my heart sank as I thought of the injustice of such massive success with such meagre material. But then we meet Mr Grey and suddenly something changed. Despite the quite dreadful cliches and his preposterous good looks, my interest was piqued. I have looked back over the text to see what it was that made me sit up and take notice but I can’t identify it. I was just curious to know about him and her and what would become of them.
And so it went on for 500 pages. Notwithstanding the limitations of the language, the lack of any kind of plot and the narrator’s irritating vocal habits I read on. I wanted to read on. I enjoyed it.
So me being me, I decided to work out what I and perhaps the millions of others that have read and enjoyed the book took from it. I could then set that against the objections that I’ve heard about it to see which rang the most true for me.
The most common attitude that I’ve come across is the book being dismissed as rubbish. I can’t accept that. It is impossible to achieve those incredible sales figures with a product that stinks. I can immediately disregard all those who say that they won’t read it for whatever reason. That is up to them of course but what can they possibly add to the debate? Those who read it and dismissed it seem to fall into three camps – those that genuinely were not interested in the story, those that objected to the story and those who may be indulging in a soupçon of intellectual snobbery. The former is fine. The latter is a sad reflection of our society but isn’t something I can do anything about. The middle group deserve more consideration.
From what I gather, the main concern seems to be the idea of a young, idealistic and innocent girl being abused by a dominant and manipulative sadist. That concept, I can see, contains plenty to object to. However, that is not how I read the story. Rather than an abusive man preying on a young innocent, I saw an intelligent and sassy young woman in control (in the main) of her own destiny. Call me a traitor to my sex (and you wouldn’t be the first) but as far I could see this was a two way street.
It’s the sex that seems to have caused the biggest stir and puts people off. I may be a prude but I don’t remember reading anything as explicit before. But it’s like everything – once the initial surprise has worn off it’s just sex and it quickly stopped being significant.
What appealed to me and I suspect is behind the success of books two and three is plain old romance. I would love to be swept off my feet by a handsome stranger who makes me feel like I am the most important thing in the world in a way that no one else has ever come close to doing. If I can’t live like that myself, and let’s face it who can, then I’m happy to read about it or watch it. It’s a straight forward feel good factor. Of course, I don’t really want a jealous lover who wants to control my every move and refuses to share me but it might be nice to think that I could provoke that kind of reaction in someone. The world is full of women reading love stories and indulging in day dreams and if you’ve never done it then you probably hated this book. If you want to tie yourself up in knots objecting to the concepts then that’s up to you but I’m a simple soul and frankly I have bigger things to fret about.
So. As a piece of literature? It’s not going to win the Man Booker. As a piece of entertainment? It worked a treat. I was entertained. There is a place in this world for all manner of things. Not everything will suit everyone but then isn’t that part of the joy of being alive?