Which series has sold over 40 million copies worldwide and overtaken Harry Potter as well as The Da Vinci Code to become the fastest selling paperback in countries like the United Kingdom? Fifty Shades of Grey, of course.
The book is classified as erotic fiction, where I am sure the word ‘erotic’ is used in the loosest sense of the word. If erotic passages are meant to induce an almost impossible combination of disbelief, cringing and inadvertent hilarity then, by all means, Fifty Shades of Grey is the most erotic novel ever written. Frankly, until now, I did not think it was possible to wince, laugh, and grind my teeth at same time.
There is also no doubt that the book is fictional because it requires a suspension of disbelief that I believe the human mind isn’t dull enough to manage. I am not sure who the 40 million people who purchased this book are, but either the US is experimenting with fresher ways to torture those being held for terrorism or Fifty Shades of Grey is really popular with the stoner crowd.
The book is told from the perspective of a 22-year-old college student Anastasia “Ana” Steele who, while doing a favour for her friend Katherine Kavanagh, meets 27-year-old businessman Christian Grey and they develop a mutual attraction. After a longwinded courtship, they eventually become involved in a more physical relationship. Initially, their physical interactions are limited to regular sexual play. Ana, who has little sexual experience, not even solo, finds Christian irresistible, and through him reaches a sexual awakening. But things get out of control when they turn to BDSM.
To his credit, Christian is very receptive to Ana’s physical needs and is both attentive and successful at sexually pleasing Ana. Unfortunately, as a male reader, that’s the only positive or realistic thing I can say about this character.
Other than that, what Fifty Shades of Grey has taught me is that I would have to be incredibly handsome, in peak physical condition, a billionaire, a philanthropist, able to fluently speak foreign languages, be trained at flying aircrafts, be the world’s best lover and, on top of all that, be impressively endowed, to attract Ana. Yes, I’d essentially have to be Batman.
But while the depiction of Christian Grey as some sort of superhuman can be perfectly acceptable as a woman’s fantasy, his characterisation makes him quite unlikable. Not only is Christian emotionally distant, rude and gloomy, he is manipulative and borderline psychotic in stalking Ana. And for a man in charge of a huge company, he seems to spend little time actually working.
On the other hand, Ana is even less likable as a highly neurotic and insecure woman, who has never been romantically interested in another person until she found someone like Christian who only appeals to her on a superficial level.
Fifty Shades of Grey is poorly written, and that too to a surprising degree. Twice, I stopped reading to check if I had been duped in my purchase or whether I was reading an authentic eBook. This isn’t surprising given that this first novel in the trilogy by British author EL James began as erotic fan fiction for the Twilight saga.
Aside from the poor characterisation, the author did not do her research properly and used plenty of British colloquialisms that sound odd being spoken by the book’s American characters. Worse still are the words and phrases that repeat themselves with such frequency, including 58 counts of the term ‘inner goddess’, that I wonder if the author set shortcuts for common phrases on her keyboard.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, August 26th, 2012.