On August 1st, 2012 EL James’s Fifty Shades trilogy has officially outsold JK Rowling’s seven-book Harry Potter series on Amazon’s UK site.
And this is something really wrong.
But it was worth it to hear this:
What comes next is not intended as a book review, not even as the last criticism of the undeserved success, but rather as a series of personal reflections on a worldwide phenomenon concerning sexuality which has aroused my interest.
My initiation into the Shades
I was dragged into the shades of grey by some friends who planned a cinema evening by the time the first movie was released. I never got interested in the book before, and I intentionally avoided reading it afterwards.
Peace of mind until I asked, a few days ago, the wrong question -Do you really think it’s worthwhile reading the book?- to the person I believed was the right one (a gay friend of mine who I just met and considered reliable), who gave me the wrong answer -Yes-. So I asked myself (yet another mistake) what he found so interesting in a book about heterosexual sex experiences.
I never found the answer, but I learned to stop asking questions.
50 Shades of Grey in short
Erotic novel, the first of a trilogy, which led to a debate because of the explicit descriptions of sexual experiences, including some BDSM ones, told from her point of view.
50 Shades of Grey in my view
At a macro level, the book is a random ensemble of words carelessly selected by a sloppy author, packed in a sad cover with a bad tie and specifically addressed to a female audience for the sole purpose of selling. Mission accomplished.
Given the worldwide resonance, the book is also the missed opportunity to scratch the taboo barrier around sex and to get people speaking openly about the sexuality experienced in an unconventional (but not wrong or sick) way.
The whole thing is completed with an all-cliché writing and a banal, predictable, slow plot.
The main characters: yet another transcript of the obvious
Anastasia Steele, yet another stereotype of the good girl, shy, naive and goofy, who lives on demanding readings, university and a modest job to support herself. Not interested at all in the opposite sex and extremely virgin, unaware of any kind of masturbation. Surrounded by good friends who try unsuccessfully to seduce her, and short of decent clothes which she has to borrow from her best friend. On a mission to save men from themselves.
Christian Grey, yet another stereotype of the successful career man, young and already wealthy, owner of a dream car garage and addicted to expensive hobbies on the scale of Iron Man. Gallant, obsessed with control, equipped with a considerable length and indefatigable in bed. Able to drive choppers, tail people, play the piano and braid hair. Totally immune to the refractory period. Passionate about whips, handcuffs and ropes which he carefully selects to subdue girls in a playroom set up for that purpose.
The plot in brief, down to the nitty gritty
They meet by chance and it’s instant attraction: he finds her awkward and insecure and plans to make her a Submissive; she finds him fascinating and unreachable and falls deeply in love getting involved in sexual practices so far unknown.
He submits to her a contract in which they are appointed as Dominant and Submissive, committed to BDSM performances from Friday evenings through to Sunday afternoons at Allotted Times.
She can’t decide whether to sign or to step back, overwhelmed by his sex drive but afraid of the pain she might suffer. And above all, she wants more: a normal boyfriend with whom to start a normal relationship, date nights, flowers, theatre and kisses in public.
He introduces her to sex and BDSM practices working up to that (he says) hoping that she’ll give in to him by getting dominated by whippings and spankings into the pursuit of pleasure.
She gets lost in an endless series of continuous and tumultuous orgasms, interrupted by short breaks during which she tries to find out where such a brutal approach to sex comes from, harassing him with inappropriate questions. Turns out he passed through a troubled childhood, a crack-whore mother and Mrs Robinson, professional mistress and close family friend who seduced and turned Mr Grey into her submissive for 6 years since He was 15.
Details you can’t miss while reading.
She keeps biting her lip and this leads him into uncontrollable erections.
She keeps rolling her eyes arousing his desire to spank her.
She never feels hungry when they are together and this pisses him off.
He doesn’t make love, He fucks… hard, He doesn’t sleep with anyone and is not familiar with romance stuff.
He is rich. A lot. And He doesn’t hide it.
He does like wearing white linen shirt. A lot.
(some) Things that make no sense
During the whole storytelling, Ana and Christian engage in dialogues and behaviours often inconsistent with their profiles like the author suddenly started letting her thoughts flow freely by replacing them. But there are some things which are beyond every possible imagination in every possible parallel universe. 3 above all:
Her. Anastasia goes from being virgin and inexperienced to being a multiple orgasm machine with no stages in between. The first time they stay together, in less than 24 hours, she reaches a total of 5 orgasms, one of which is elicited by nipples stimulation, another one by oral clit stimulation, and performs her first fellatio (perfectly executed..the beginner’s luck!). And she comes every time, under his command, flawlessly. Chapeau.
Him. Christian is the man that doesn’t have to try too hard, always confident and sure, who gets paranoid after 2 seconds she doesn’t answer to his messages, rushing into stakeouts and stalker behaviours.
The ending: the plot proceeds banally and repetitively for more than 600 pages, then suddenly changes in the last 10, probably when the author decided to leave the ending open for a second book.
In less than 10 pages Anastasia (after being hit 6 times with a belt) reconsiders the entire relationship and choose to take a step back. Starting a sequence of inconsistent thoughts and behaviours, she decides to escape from him but she remains at his home to pass the night; then she takes a shower in the morning; then, fueled by an impulse of pride, she returns all the expensive gifts received from Christian and finally takes advantage of his driver to be taken home. Greetings and kisses.
Something to save
The customised subjects of the emails between Ana and Christian: often ironic, sometimes clever, they break up the plot’s sameness. One point for the intuition.
The inner goddess: Ana often describes her visceral and unrestrained feelings as personified under the character of the inner goodness, a kind of subconscious which sometimes sways in a gentle victorious samba, some others sighs with relief or is smoldering and not in a good way. Although frivolous, it adds some personality traits to the character.
The book got people talking about sex: even though superficially and from an angle still not free from prejudice, it freed the tongue of people who never talked or read about ‘such things’ before.
Taylor: Christian’s personal driver, paid handsomely to not have his own life and to please his boss’s wishes. Omnipresent, invisible and taciturn, He shows up here and there during the plot driving the car, purchasing female lingerie, selling secondhand vehicles and welcoming hosts at home. Congruent and irreplaceable.
The third main character: sex
While I was reading the book I directed my attention to the way of dealing with the issue of sexuality. This being my first erotic novel, I was curious about how such a silent topic could be put in writing.
Every link to sexuality is told in the form of experiences lived by Ana’s point of view: she describes the excitement feelings induced by Christian using erotic and role games, how the sex adventures unroll and how they bring her to experience overwhelming orgasms.
The sequence of behaviours and thoughts gets repeated in the exact same way during the entire book: he drives her to an excited state, verbally first then physically, she gets excited, moans and arches, he binds her wrists together and makes her come on his command for penetration, oral stimulation or other, reaching a simultaneous orgasm.
All the orgasms experienced by Ana follow an inexorable, steady growing arousal. No variations, no hesitations, no troubles, no temporary thoughts spoiling the moment. No shades (one point to me).
Mr Grey experiences sex in the role of Dominator who exercises power over his Submissive through punishments, BDSM tools and obedience requests, by engaging her in sex practices where pain and excitement merge to let both players experiencing sexual pleasure. All good so far if it was just about the free choice to live the sexuality out of the ‘ordinary’ (vanilla) way, conscious and free from taboos and prejudices.
The fact the author has motivated Mr Grey’s approach to sexuality with a troubled and traumatic past, makes it seem somehow wrong and loaded with negative associations. Sex, as is experienced by Christian, is not free and conscious but diverted by past trauma and needs to be adjusted in order to approach a sexual activity more right and acceptable.
For those who want to venture into the reading despite all:
my only advice is to take the book for what it is, a light and smooth reading about two people from totally different backgrounds and ways of life who meet and attract each other, one contract, and lots of orgasms. All good the same.
Before Fifty Shades of Grey
When Fifty Shades of Grey was called ‘Master of the universe’ and was about Bella Swan and Edward Cullen.
Ana and Christian’s story was initially a Twilight fan fiction posted episodically online in various venues by E.L. James. Because of the comments generated by the sexually explicit register, she moved the contents on her own website amending title and characters’ names, till she finally took contact with publishing companies and removed all the contents from the web. So Bella became Anastasia, Edward became Christian, and all the vampires came back human. (here the whole characters’ transposition).
When Mr Grey was called Edward
There was a time when Mr Grey wasn’t so wealthy but already addicted to BDSM and also secretaries’ submission. I’m talking about Secretary, the movie released in 2002 which might have inspired E. L. James to write the story about our contemporaries heroes. A completely different storytelling, occasionally ironic, more subtle and structured, but with some common traits. To all curious: is one of those movies which aren’t good or bad, which require time and dedication to be understood and appreciated, but gives you something to reflect on. Not a 50 shades kind of movie. I warned you.
What remains after Fifty Shades of Grey
Other than 2 more books that I won’t read, tho awful movies and a series of sex toys and bondage accessories sold by Lovehoney. I suggest the Riding Crop (tested and approved) and the ruler (it’s a good ruler, that’s it).