The 50 Shades of Grey Debate

### Caroline Lallis: “the figures speak for themselves”

Fan fiction, publishing sensation, mommy porn: it has been called many things by the media, but one thing is certain: _Fifty Shades Of Grey_ has caused a sensation in the publishing world not seen since _Twilight_ or _Harry Potter_, only this time without a wizard or sparkly vampire in sight.

The figures speak for themselves. The book has shifted 4 million copies in the UK in addition to the unbelievable 15 million sold in the US and Canada. And despite the scathing reviews of friends and the online community in general, I can see the appeal.

I will admit that the writing is not great; its repetitive, at times laboured and, as a fellow literature student, I cringed at the portrayal of Anastasia Steele, the supposedly intelligent heroine who simpers like a Bieber fan and is guilty of the same annoying lip-biting typical of the Kristen Stewart school of acting (which is not surprising, since this book did start out as Twilight fan fiction).

But, importantly, I kept reading; and so did millions of others. There is something to be said here – something compelling. It could be the dark brooding nature of the mysterious Christian Grey, or it could be the thrill of enjoying a bit of kinky fantasy with minimal risk of injury or embarrassment. Its success has even been put down to the e-book phenomenon, supposedly allowing millions of more mild mannered fans of erotica the chance to enjoy it through the anonymity of a coverless kindle.

But I have my own theory. This is sex written by a woman, unashamedly for women – practically unheard of in the world of porn, which is almost entirely geared towards male viewers. Female sexuality is rarely allowed into the spotlight, instead often shut behind closed doors, ignored or even derided.

_Fifty Shades_ changes the focus entirely, even having the Ana in the driver’s seat of the narrative, in control of the story, even if she is the submissive party in Grey’s S&M fantasies. Not only is the heroine empowered, but so are her readers. Women are consuming this book openly without embarrassment; it’s on the train, at the bus stop and featuring in book clubs up and down the land.

And I say good. Anything that gets women (or anyone really) feeling empowered enough to be comfortable with exploring their sexuality is a blessing, even if it comes in the form of an emotionally bankrupt yet fabulously wealthy CEO who likes spanking young innocent ingénues.

It may not be perfect, but I for one will be reading the sequels and if you give it a try, I’m sure you will too.

### Scott Harris: “what we have here is a book for the illiterate”

In all honesty, I don’t think it is going too far to suggest that popular literature during the last 200 years largely depicts women with a death wish. That is to say, women who become unfathomably obsessed with a dark, mysterious male who haunts the novel, and poses a large threat to the safety of our heroines. I speak, of course, of Gothic fiction, and of novels such as _Jane Eyre_ and its daughter _Rebecca_, of _Wuthering Heights_ and _Dracula_, and indeed of more recent series such as _Twilight_ and _The Vampire Diaries_.

You’ll be thrilled to read that this is not another article denouncing the anti-feminism of novels whose central female goes weak at the knees when a man takes hold of her neck and threatens to rip out her throat (I’m pretty certain Mr Rochester says something of the sort to poor Jane Eyre). As a general rule, on the subject of this debate, I revert to the argument which credits the female population with the ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality

Instead, what I write here is a lament! I lament for the demise of creativity in romantic fiction, for the loss of mystery, of plot, of cunning. But most of all, I lament what seems to be the loss of an intelligent readership. It is not often you’ll witness me praising the literary merit of _Twilight_, but I am afraid to report of a far greater evil (as if you haven’t heard of it!) – E L James’s _Fifty Shades of Grey_, or rather, “500 Pages of Shite.”

Upon questioning my friend (currently awaiting a delivery from Amazon of the final instalment – _Fifty Shades Freed_ – and a bumper pack of AA batteries) why exactly she loves these novels, she said: “You know me, I don’t like reading, I don’t read, but I read the first two in a week!”

So, in other words, what we have here is… books for the illiterate.

Among the tedious repetition and continuous mixed metaphors, one struggles to find even a mere shred of a storyline: in rewriting _Twilight_ without the vampires, James reduces what is an already seriously lacking saga to nothingness. No werewolves, no deaths, no magic powers, or creepy vampire girls: what exactly does _Fifty Shades of Grey_ have going for it?

MY GOD, THE SEX. Don’t get me wrong, for a sex novel, _Fifty Shades_ does exactly what it says on the tin – they have sex. Lots and lots of really, really good sex.

But I think that, even as a sex novel, it leaves something to be desired. At this stage I go to my bookcase and remove my well-thumbed copy of _The Italian’s Blushing Gardener_ by Christina Hollis, an average-sized Mills and Boon. Kira finds herself gardening for billionaire Stefano Albani, who bears a staggering similarity to Christian Grey of _Fifty Shades_. It takes Stefano 150 pages before he finally gets Kira into bed. Then: bish, bosh, we’re all sexed up… and the novel ends thirty pages later.

Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey have sex for the first time 112 pages in. If _Fifty Shades of Grey_ was a real sex novel, it would finish at page 150. In Mills and Boon, the publishers, the editors, the writers, the readers, everyone knows that once they have sex, game over. _Fifty Shades_ is no more than a common sex novel, depressingly stretched out over three long books.

The only difference between Kira and Ana is that, at the end, (SPOILER ALERT) Kira has her man, whereas Ana continues to deal with Christian’s mind games and gets hit with a belt. Considering that sex fiction encourages a vicarious reader, the _Fifty Shades _concept strikes me as slightly less mainstream than it claims to be.

Ultimately, _Fifty Shades of Grey_ fails on all fronts: it fails to fulfil its claim to epic romance exhibited in novels by the Bronte’s; it fails to grasp the fantastical grandeur of vampire fiction, the only saving grace of a genre which has practically nothing going for it in the first place; and it even fails to represent sex fiction due to its length, not to mention the fact that it lingers around far too long after the climax (page 112) when all we want to do is go home and shower.

Although it doesn’t fit in any prescribed format already established within romantic fiction, neither does it break boundaries, test limits, or challenge norms, leaving its unfortunate reader far more frustrated perhaps than they hoped to be upon finishing.


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