Monday 23 July 2012

Fifty Shades Of Grey. Yet Another Opinion

( Fifty Shades of Grey - The Trilogy. I bought hard copies. No furtive downloading for me.)

In polite company, I have been told, it is rude to discuss, politics, religion or sex. I say bollocks to that.
During the past few weeks, I have had enormous fun discussing sex. In polite company.
The first time I heard about the Fifty Shades of Grey (E.L James) trilogy, was at a lovely (respectable) dinner party in the Northern suburbs,where the food, wine and conversation were excellent and where I believe the book was disparagingly referred to a 'mommy porn.' I was not put off.
Last week I  sat at Clarke's in Bree Street with an old university friend and his wife, where he confessed to having appropriated her Kindle with the express purpose of of reading her downloaded copy. 'Is this what woman want' he asked. 'Who knows what women want? But clearly they want this book.' I replied. Last I'd read she was making almost $1 million a week from book sales. Which translates into an awful lot of people liking what she's written. On Saturday, I went to a friend's birthday party and what do you know?  We were drinking wonderful amounts of Pierre Jourdan and talking about Fifty Shades. We also spoke about politics and religion. But believe me, the sex was more interesting.

Twitter has been most unkind. 'For school girls and undersexed middle aged women', tweeted one. 'Badly written' tweeted many. Now those I've been chatting to (and I won't out them) are neither of school going age, nor judging by their appearance and conversation middle aged (unless, God forbid, the 30s and the 40s are now regarded as middle-aged)  or to my knowledge, undersexed,  and some of them are in fact highly regarded professionals. Some who even write well. Read well. But also admit to liking a bit of smut. And who doesn't? Who never furtively read books written by Jilly Cooper? Octavia? Riders? Judith Krantz? What about Princess Daisy? Shirley Conran's Lace? All those male characters were domineering and highly skilled lovers. That was the attraction. I grew up on a steady diet of romance novels and went on to get a degree in English literature. I'm no literary snob and I haven't read a romance novel in more than 20 years. But I did read two out of the three Fifty Shades books. I lost interest by the third one, but the first two did keep me happily occupied one rainy weekend. 

And yes, I'm inclined to agree with those who say it's badly written, for how many times can a girl bite her lip, how awful to have an annoying inner goddess doing the salsa or something like that. How ridiculous that in this day and age a woman with a degree in literature does not have an email address. There are a thousand annoying things about these books. But neither the author not the publishers are selling this as high-brow literature. Cliterature more likely. But that's ok. There is some great literature out there. Fifty Shades is not it.

But what I do like about these books and why I will defend them is the conversations surrounding them rather than the books themselves. Conversations are being had about what turns people on. What women want. What men want. I don't see it as anti-feminist or degrading to women. I'm not into BDSM and I most certainly don't wish to be spanked, but this is fantasy, people, and escapism, and I doubt EL James has any interest in winning the Booker prize. But if these books are responsible for women having better or more frequent sex, I say go for it. 

And so this post is about my stand against snobbism. Go ahead, have an opinion about the books, sure be witty and funny, I like that, but stop mocking those who like the whole Grey / Steele/ 50 Shades thing. It diminishes you not them. It's like being snotty about margarine. Personally I hate the stuff, being partial to butter. But I have no moral judgment on those who like Rama. I also like Spur chips with pink sauce on occasion and on road trips I drink Wimpy coffee. I dare you to judge me...


  1. I love the term cliterature! Well written and good for you on having an opinion! it is what makes life interesting :)

  2. Oe, hoe lekker het ek nou gelag! I too like Spur chips with pink sauce and Wimpy coffee on occasion.

    And I'll confess to having read ALL of Jilly Cooper's Horsey books...and enjoying them! I dare you you to judge me...hahaha!

    Very nice piece, Sam!

  3. Cliterature sells for a reason...nuff said! I loved the books (still have 3 to get to) and was magically transported to a fantasy world that I dare never venture into BUT now that I am slightly enlightened (yes, in a porny kind of way), I'm intrigued and want to converse about the topic too! And who doesn't love a good romp in a book?!?

  4. You write so well, I HAD to finish the whole article. The same impulse that made me HAVE to finish your writing made me HAVE to toss 50 shades after 5 pages. Ok, I didn't really get to toss it as I am rather fond of my kindle, but I did delete the sample I had downloaded as fast as possible.
    I don't get why anyone wants to read badly written stuff when there is so much fantastic content out there?!

  5. Hi Maya.
    Sex and escapism trumps good writing, methinks.
    And thanks for the complement re my writing. You're kind to say so. But I'm not making $1 Millions a week or outselling JK Rowling. More's the pity...
    Glad your Kindle is still intact!