And I promised I wouldn’t talk about that book…
Yes, I’ve read it. Not sure there are many women left in the English-speaking world who haven’t, and with sales topping 40 million world-wide, it’s obviously just as popular in translation.
Did I enjoy it? Well, no, not particularly, but this post isn’t going to be an E L James hate-fest. Plenty of those around, and some of the vitriol directed against the writer sits a little uneasily with me. Let’s be honest, it’s not an impressive book – it’s clumsily written, with unintentional but frequently hilarious results, and the main characters make Edward Cullen and Bella Swann seem like complex, literate intellectuals with more than one brain cell to share between them.
And yet – women are reading it. On the bus, on the tube, in coffee breaks and in their lunch-hour (half-hour, usually, these days, but still) – they’re forming opinions, and they’re talking to their friends about a book they’ve read. As a would-be published writer, it would be churlish in the extreme to take issue with that.
Of course, it’s the whole BDSM thing that has made headlines worldwide, sparking off debates about the healthiness or otherwise of post-feminist society obsessing over a series featuring a voluntarily submissive woman in a relationship with a dominant male. For what it’s worth, I think we’re doing women a disservice if we seriously think Fifty Shades is going to have any impact at all on the way they live their lives now.
For heaven’s sake, we understand that the writer is telling us a story. We get that it’s all made up, okay? If a man actually approached us with a roll of duct tape and a gleam in his eye, we’d give him thirty seconds to sling his hook before we rang the polis. And even if we were interested enough to make with the furry handcuffs in the privacy of our bedroom, at the slightest hint of coercion, our safe word would be ‘Get off, you bastard!’ accompanied by a swift squeeze of the offending dangly bits. I’ve seen concerns raised about the possibility of the books influencing women to get ‘curious’ and wind up in dangerous situations, but honestly, if you really believe there’s a young, handsome, damaged but saveable multi-millionaire out there for you, whatever his taste in bedroom activities, you probably shouldn’t be allowed out on your own much anyway.
And let’s be honest – so much of Mr Grey’s attraction is based around his huge,er,wallet. He can give Ana the kind of lifestyle she seems singularly ill-equipped to ever achieve on her own, and she doesn’t have to lift a finger for it, just like Bella the Brainless. If you think about it, there’s a long tradition of semi-sadistic, damaged alpha males, from Mr Rochester to – shudder – Edward Cullen, and their bank balances range from the well-off to the staggeringly rich. Almost makes you think they’re compensating for something…
Just for the avoidance of doubt – I do think the books carry one very dangerous message, and it’s nothing to do with the whole whips and handcuffs thing. If you read all three books, you’ll see that it’s basically a Mills & Boon type plot, with the traditional wedding bells and 2.4 children happy ending. Christian and Ana probably still occasionally get up to things in the bedroom that would scare the horses, but otherwise their relationship is happy-ever-after land.
I can’t believe anyone needs me to spell it out, but just in case you’ve not been topping up your brain-food recently, here goes: If you’re in a relationship with a sadistic bully, He. Will . Not. Change. Not by your efforts, not by you being the perfect partner, not by the production of children – He. Will. Not. Change. Got it? Not unless he gets intensive therapy and acknowledges what a git he’s been. And maybe – probably – not even then. Don’t risk your or your children’s well-being by thinking he will.
Okay, rant over. Look folks, you’re not stupid – enjoy the books for what they are, and don’t beat yourself up about it. Though I suppose you could get your partner to do it, if you’re that way inclined.