Friday, November 23, 2012

Fifty shades of holy crap

Holy crap! I promise you I did not post this picture upside-down intentionally. But now that it's done, I see that it suits the mood of this piece perfectly. This is not my usual kind of blog post, so why should it have the usual kind of picture? 

I prefer to write about books I love rather than books I don't, simply because there are so many good books I want more people to read - and so many bad books I wished less people were reading. Bad books don't need blogs to help them sell, do they? 

But every once in a while a bad little book comes along that just won't be ignored. Actually three bad little books in this case, and sorry if that sounds too much like the three little piglets in the fairy tale, but the whole publishing phenomenon of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy has become something of a fairy tale. At least for the author, EL James, who was utterly unknown barely a year ago and has now sold tens of millions of books in dozens of countries. And she achieved all this with a saucy fairy tale about a virginal student princess named Anastasia who is kissed (and spanked and flogged and beaten) into sexual awakening by a powerful prince of the business world named Christian Grey.

Good for Ms James, I should say. Anyone who knows me would tell you I'm all for transforming fairy tales into more transgressive genres. My biggest problem with Fifty Shades of Grey, though, is that it's all pseudo-transgression, with endless talk about sadomasochistic practices leading to very little action on that front. Most of the erotic action is of the so-called 'normal' kind - that is if you find it normal for a very recently 'deflowered' girl to have mind-blowing orgasms at the drop of a hat while maintaining a constant dialogue with her 'inner goddess'. The worst that can be said of the sex scenes is that they tend to be described with too many unoriginal adjectives and far too many exclamation marks.

As one reviewer wrote, 'suffering through 500 pages of this heroine's inner dialogue was torturous, and not in the intended, sexy kind of way'.

Basically this is M&B with S&M - old-fashioned Mills and Boons spiced up with a bit of Sadism and Masochism - boosting all the classic ingredients of those romances: innocent heroine meets fatally attractive/powerful/rich/brilliant hero (in the case of the incredible Christian Grey, all of these adjectives apply) with a dark and difficult past; he saves her life (repeatedly, throughout the trilogy, in the case of the incredible Christian Grey) while she saves his soul; and love conquers all. You don't have to read all three books to know that Anastasia and Christian will end up getting decently married and living happily ever after. While still enjoying kinky sex, of course, just to make sure all readers get the point that nothing beats the pleasures of the conjugal bed. Or floor. Or whatever.  

OK, enough already, before I start sounding like a cynical and sexually frustrated wife. I've heard that the trilogy has added spice to the boring sex lives of many married couples, for which Ms James also deserves praise. As for me, I prefer novels that are well-written, with believable characters and situations, and sex-scenes without inner goddesses interfering all the time. And whatever else Fifty Shades of Grey is, well-written it is not. 

'Clunky prose', some reviewers call it, but clunky doesn't cover it. Cringe-inducing is more like it. Believe it or not, but this erotic heroine's favourite exclamation - and boy, does she love exclaiming! - is 'Holy cow!'. When she's feeling more daring, she uses 'Holy crap!'. When she loses it completely, she shouts 'Holy shit!' and occasionally even 'Holy fuck!'. I mean, really. 

So, good for Ms James and all her millions of female readers who dream of being dominated in bed or in life, but count me out. I certainly won't be reading the rest of the trilogy. Sometimes, as far as books and sex go, once is indeed enough.