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Tuesday, 7 August 2012

E L James - The Fifty Shades Trilogy

review live on show by Ro Bennett 9th August 2012
I must admit to being totally prejudiced when I started to read the first book in the trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey. I grew up in the era when men were the bread winners and women stayed at home and reared the children. My mother broke that mould and although she was very successful she did encounter a certain amount of opposition and disapproval. When I married, the concept that the husband was the boss and head of the household was still prevalent and I did initially try to be compliant but I really believed that I was equal to any man and certainly had no intention of letting some idiot tell me what to do just because he was a male. I am a fervent believer in equal rights and equality.

So the whole topic of subservience and domination is an anathema to me. I certainly know that if anyone took a whip to me, I’d hit him over the head with a frying pan the moment he fell asleep...

Furthermore I had heard that the book was badly written, riddled with clichés, narrated by a soppy girl besotted by a deeply dysfunctional, unpleasant man, with pages of explicit kinky sex and mindless violence - none of which are my reading taste. So I expected to hate the book.

Well I didn’t - I loved it. So much so that I read the whole trilogy and then went back and read the first book from a different perspective. I think you need to read all three books to really understand it.

I thought the book was going to perpetuate the dangerous myth that if you love someone enough you can change them and that with the popularity and influence of the book a generation of young girls would get drawn into unhealthy relationships believing that they could work miracles, allow themselves to be sexually abused and beaten senseless while clinging to the hope that they could turn the monster into Prince Charming.

But that was not in fact the case. Instead I found it to be a love story of compromise where a woman has a voice and a man listens. It’s about two people who have to learn to trust each other, talk to each other and find a balance, a happy medium, in order to make their relationship work.

In the beginning Christian does not want a close relationship with a woman. He wants a consensual dominant/submissive contract where he can hold his partner at arm’s length emotionally and be in total control. This is the way he has successfully conducted his former relationships and it it his coping mechanism, a self preservation technique the reason for which is revealed as the story unfolds.

As his relationship with Anastasia develops however, Christian finds himself in a situation where these methods of coping are no longer effective. He finds this bewildering and unsettling but to his surprise, he does not want to lose what he has found in Anastasia so is struggling to adjust to a new way of relating.

Anastasia meanwhile is being introduced to a whole new world of sexual and sensual experiences. She wants to experiment and has a safe word she can use if she is feeling physically or emotionally overwhelmed by the erotic practice they are exploring and Christian has promised to stop immediately. But she also has severe reservations and boundaries - hard limits, which she doesn’t want to cross. She loves Christian but is uncomfortable with his fear of emotional intimacy and doesn’t want to comply with his need to control, yet is scared that in sticking to her boundaries she will be unable to meet his deeper needs and will eventually lose him.

The question is are they going to stay on opposite ends of the see saw or are they capable of inching closer together and achieving harmony?

The book started out as Twilight fan fiction. This is where fans of the original work write their own stories about the characters or settings. Eventually E.L. James switched around the character names from Edward and Bella, developed the story beyond fanfiction and put out the book through a virtual publisher as both an e-book and an on-demand print edition.

She admits she’s no Thomas Hardy and is amazed at the impact and influence her books have had. Fifty Shades of Grey has become an international best seller in 41 countries and has sold 30 million copies in just months, making it the fastest selling book of all time.

So what is the attraction? For me it was pure escapism; it was fun, it was a peek into the taboo, it was an easy, relaxing, enjoyable read. In a recession, what bliss to indulge in the fantasy of being adored by a billionaire who just loves spending money on you. Well the moment Christian bought Anastasia an i pad I fell in love with him!

As for the steamy bits - it is very explicit and in the first book an awful lot of sex. This has brought about a fair amount of scoffing, such as ‘No one has that much stamina!’ and ‘What? no cystitis?, no cramp?, no dislocated limbs?’ But it is fiction - the blue creatures in the film Avatar aren’t real either!

Someone compared Christian Grey to Heathcliff as in Wuthering Heights with whips or Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre who combines smouldering passion with a sadistic streak or dark Mr Darcy. He is certainly like the fantasy male figure of the Victorian era.

Imagine a typical mum, with a young family, exhausted with the struggle to juggle the finances, run a household, hold down a job, cope with an equally tired, stressed partner who falls asleep on the sofa snoring like a hog whilst watching the footie. No wonder she enjoys being immersed in a fantasy where the heroine is seduced in a lavish bachelor pad by a lover who worships her body, someone who finds her desirable and for whom she is the centre of his erotic fancy.

Apparently the sale of sex toys has rocketed due to the popularity of the book - and surely that’s a good thing. Why should couples be content with minimal communication, minimal sex and minimal fun? Committing to regular pleasure is extremely good for the health and I love the idea of women sharing this book with their husband or lover as a way to create greater intimacy and more fun. I heard of a couple who open the book at random and try the sex described on the page. Apparently there’s no sex on page 37. So maybe then they watch the football...

As to whether or not it is great literature - I thought the style and content improved with each book. In book two, Fifty Shades Darker, an element of tension and danger is introduced due to the jealous behaviour of one of Christian’s ex-girl friends. In book three, Fifty Shades Freed, there is even more suspense as a deranged rapist plans revenge, trying repeatedly to kill Christian and kidnap Anastasia. These situations make Christian even more paranoid, because he needs to be in control. Will it pull them together or drive them apart and will there be a happy or tragic outcome? Gripping stuff! Perfect holiday reading!

I certainly have read worse - including the Dan Brown books. We can analyse it, pick it to pieces and criticise it until the cows come home - but it’s a bit like anything - we don’t always read Shakespeare or watch documentaries on television, or listen just to classical music and although we might normally eat a really healthy snack - sometimes don’t we just fancy a bar of chocolate? It’s fun
also known as 50 shades of suck...

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