Unless you’ve been hiding under a very large rock, in a very dark cave somewhere off a remote island, or have absolutely zero interest in anything happening in either the news or mainstream popular culture, chances are you’ve heard about the Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy by British author E. L James. When I was on holiday in Croatia, approximately half of the women on the beach were reading one of the three novels, and even my youngest sister Mariella, who very rarely reads, had torn through E. L James’ debuts. Since their publication, there’s been a Channel 4 documentary on the books, two features on ITV’s This Morning, and copious articles written about both the popularity and controversy of the books.
In addition to a media storm surrounding the series, Fifty Shades of Grey has overtaken Harry Potter as the bestselling British book of all time, having sold 5.3 million copies to date. Such figures have been the cause of much outrage among leading literary figures – and indeed begs the question: how has this so-called ‘mommy porn’ become a worldwide best seller?
As a seasoned reader, I often tend to avoid reading books that take the world by storm – I’ve only read one of the Harry Potter series; I never got into Alice Seabold’s The Lovely Bones and I still have an unread copy of Dan Brown’s the Da Vinci Code. However, purely for blogging purposes (ahem), and having been recommended the novels by a number of girlfriends, I decided to see what all the fuss was about.
I must pre-warn any followers of my blog that if you want to read Fifty Shades of Grey in a public place, do so at your own peril. I was innocently waiting outside Earls Court for a friend en route to The Olympics when one of the stewards decided to creep up behind me with his speakerphone and shout for all to hear: ‘Are you enjoying the story of MR Grey young lady?! My colleagues and I hear it’s rather frisky!’ Obviously frightfully amused, his colleagues doubled over in laughter while I blushed profusely, and murmured something about having a book blog, an explanation which he clearly didn’t buy. I’ve also been winked at by a fellow (female) commuter and a friend of mine also had a rather unwelcome experience on the tube which involved a rather pervy man.
Fifty Shades of Grey tells the story of Literature graduate Anastasia Steele who embarks upon a relationship with billionaire Christian Grey, having interviewed him for the university newspaper. Their relationship, however, is far from conventional and involves a ‘Red Room of Pain’, riding crops, cable ties and a signed contract in which Anastasia must consent to be a submissive to Christian’s dominant.
While many say that the plot that weaves its way through the three books is simply a vehicle for a plethora of graphic sex scenes, the trilogy isn’t simply one sordid encounter after another, and while Fifty Shades is certainly no great work of literature, it serves a purpose as such. Much like the Jeremy Kyle of books, it’s trashy and cringeworthy for the most part, but equally entertaining and addictive.
The end of Fifty Shades Freed, the final book in the trilogy, is not dissimilar to the conclusion of a modern-day fairy-tale: girl meets boy, changes him against the odds, and they both live happily ever after.
Fifty Shades of Grey will never top a literature poll, but if you’re after a light and entertaining read then it will certainly fit the bill. And if it encourages people to read who have never previously done so, then in my eyes it’s no bad thing.