E L James’s erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey is the fastest selling book of the year, but is it actually any good?
Thew book, inspired loosely by the “Twilight” series, sold 250,000 digital copies before scoring a seven-figure print deal with Vintage Books, a subsidiary of Knopf Doubleday.
The book’s climb to the top is remarkable, considering the title lacked the marketing and financial backing of a major publisher. The success of the obscure romance title, which began as fan fiction written by a lesser-known author, is forcing the staunchly traditional field of print publishing to take a new look at digital marketing.
….Before I know it, he’s got both my hands in one of his in a vise-like (sic) grip above my head, and he’s pinning me to the wall using his hips. His other hand grabs my hair and yanks it down, bringing my face up, and his lips are on mine. It’s only just not painful. I moan into his mouth, giving his tongue an opening … I’ve never been kissed like this … I’m helpless, my hands pinned, my face held, and his hips restraining me… Oh my … He wants me. Christian Grey, Greek god, wants me, and I want him, here … now, in the elevator.’
This the description of the first kiss shared by virginal undergraduate Anastasia and her kinky billionaire admirer in Fifty Shades of Grey, the latest publishing phenomenon to be adapted for the big screen — and it’s the only part of the passionate sections I can quote before it gets wildly explicit. The genre is being tagged Mommy Porn, due to its popularity among women of a certain age, but it’s really quite pedestrian chick-lit, albeit X-rated chick-lit.
Fifty Shades of Grey’s success is shocking partly because it combines romance and erotica, genres typically assumed hidden in bedroom drawers and often looked down upon by the literary world. But romance novels have a massive, devoted following, and publishers like Harlequin and Doubleday rake in millions each year from romance novels alone. Clearly, Grey’s steamy subject matter resonated with a large, primarily female fan base, with the Huffington Post dubbing the novel “Mommy Porn.”
Hollywood star Ryan Gosling (The Notebook; Crazy Stupid Love) is rumoured to be playing the dark and damaged S&M fan Christian. His Crazy Stupid Love co-star Emma Stone would make a good dorky Anastasia but the role hasn’t been cast yet.
Author EL James, aka Erika Mitchell (49), signed the $5m (£3m) film contract with Universal last month and now has a six-book publishing deal with Random House, having sold 250,000 e-book and print copies.
The first of a trilogy, Fifty Shades Of Grey, is top of the American, UK and Irish bestseller lists and is dominating titillated reading groups all over the world.
When I went into Barnes and Noble to ask for it, the salesgirl said that lots of women had been ringing to see if it was in, and warned, conspiratorially, that it’s supposed to be “really raunchy”.
That’s an understatement — the vast majority of the narrative is taken up with hair-raising sado-masochistic antics featuring spanking, riding crops and cable-ties and various unmentionable sex toys, mostly in Christian’s ‘red room of pain’, the naughty ante-chamber in his Seattle mansion.
In short, naive literature student Anastasia meets the charismatic sadist when she interviews him for the college magazine. He wines and dines her, and woos her with extravagant gifts, then gets her to sign a contract to become the ‘submissive’ to his ‘dominant’ in his racy games. She has a sexual awakening and falls hard, but there’s something mysterious from his past which keeps him from committing to her.
This leaves the London-based author plenty of scope for two follow-up novels, Twilight-style. She has admitted that she loved the Stephanie Meyer vampire trilogy; she even wrote fan-fiction yarns about Twilight’s Bella Swann and Edward Cullen, and Meyer’s influence is plain to be seen in Fifty Shades.
However, control freak Christian is potentially far more dangerous than sappy vegetarian vampire Edward, and when he goes too far with his ‘discipline’, there’s sore buttocks and trouble in paradise for Anastasia.
Of course, from Heathcliff to Mr Big, most women love a bit of danger and darkness in their romantic heroes but this Christian creature — although intriguing in the beginning — eventually gave this reader the creeps.
This aversion could be linked though to a friend’s tales of an S&M follower she went out with in England, who persuaded her once to act out the dominant role to his submissive, using her nursing training (I’ll spare you the gross details.) Once was enough and the last straw came when she upset his alphabetically arranged cereals, sauces and foodstuffs in his OCD designed cupboards and fridge.
The fictional Christian also has control issues but Fifty Shades seems to imply that women secretly want domineering men.
Former TV producer and mother-of-two Erika James claims she has grown women screaming at her “as though I was Brad Pitt” at book signings, and both sexes thanking her for spicing up their relationships.
She has been happily married for 25 years to scriptwriter Niall Leonard (Hornblower; Silent Witness), who takes her saucy narrative in his stride. She claims her mother and her 82-year-old aunt “really enjoyed it”, while her teenage sons are apparently mortified.
“Fifty Shades is a romantic fantasy story which offers women a holiday from their husbands,” she said in a recent interview. “When you fall in love, you have a lot of sex, at least from what I can remember! My book is a guilty pleasure.
“I’ve had very funny letters and sweet and moving ones from people saying such things as: ‘you’ve put me in touch with myself.’ But I never set out to do that.”
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