In case you’ve been living under a rock like I have, British author E L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey is presently the most talked-about book. Everyone from twenty year old counter chicks to Sex and The City’s Kim Cattrall has gotten hot under the collar from reading it, and judging by half of a book I’ve thumbed through, they’ve good reason too.
Rarely has a work of erotic fiction taken the mainstream by storm. Part of the Fifty Shades of Grey‘s appeal, I believe, boils down to accessibility. It is commercial fiction. There is no high-falluting in any of its 514 pages. Indeed, there are next to no big words for which you might need a dictionary. Furthermore, with the exception of graphic sex scenes, Fifty Shades of Grey adheres to the traditional romance novel formula. If you have no idea what I’m on about, then read Danielle Steel or pick up any copy of Mills and Boons.
You’ll be struck by how the hero is always rich, tall, rakishly handsome and debonair. Since Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, heroes have become dysfunctional and brooding, but still rich, tall and handsome, while heroines have reverted to being helpless damsels in distress, often wearing jeans and sneakers, in need of rescue by some valiant knight. I like that E L James’s Ana is more gutsy and realistic than Stephenie Meyer’s Bella who wants to be wedded to a vampire at 18, but who am I kidding? Women read romance simply to escape back to a time when we held a man’s undivided attention.
For too many of us, that initial period being the object of someone’s fixation is just too short. We want to experience the thrill of the chase again, to be wanted, admired, and obsessed over, if only via introjection into a character’s eyes. Reading romance, we all imagine ourselves to be the heroine on whose hallowed ground the hero worships. Even if like E L James’ Christian Grey, the hero has serious control issues and is into BDSM.
People who object to E L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey on the grounds that it sets a bad example for young girls to follow, in terms of intimate relationships, miss the point that fiction is mere entertainment. At the very most, it’s edutainment; a cross between education and entertainment. I contend that the entertainment quotient is still substantially higher though. As a writer, I don’t imagine anyone picking up my work and referencing it like the Bible. If it resonates with them, they might read it again or share it with friends. Certainly not take it and use what I have to say as a road-map for future relationships.
For my part, I decided to check out Fifty Shades of Grey because I wanted to see what all the fuss is about. Since none I asked could put into words why the book spoke to them enough for them to recommend it to friends, in the interest of researching people’s reading habits, I had to experience it for myself. Reading it, I alternated between being impressed by some of the phrases used, and underwhelmed by the liberal sprinkling of words such as “flush” and “dryly.” In case you didn’t know, at 400 000 words, the English language is so voluminous that repetition is hardly necessary. Throughout my evening spent tucked in its bosom, I can hear Stephen King’s voice, however he sounds, exhorting me to kill the adverbs, fix the punctuation and chop the loose sentences. The story though, is gripping for the reasons mentioned, which explains why I am still reading it.