Thursday, 15 March 2012

Fifty Shades of 'Mommy Porn'.

It's been spreading like wildfire all over Long Island. Everyone's posting witty comments about it on Facebook, and if they're not reading it, they've definitely heard of it. At my book club meeting last night, more people than have ever darkened the door of Book Club before turned up to discuss it: The Book. Fifty Shades of Grey.

This book is a viral phenomenon. According to the New York Times, it's shot to the top of the bestseller list, aided by downloads on Kindles. Because this is a book you don't necessarily want to be caught reading in public too obviously. It is erotica; or, as the NY Times puts it (whisper): 'Mommy Porn'. Upper East Side women are devouring it, mothers are discussing it at school gates, teachers are debating it in school corridors (or so said one of my friends, a teacher herself).

I hadn't heard of the book when it was suggested back at book club a month ago. All I knew was that it was 'raunchy' and involved some bondage. But I had no expectations when I downloaded my copy (more because I was trying out my new Kindle rather than because of the 'Mommy Porn' element).

I know different now. Chat shows all over America are getting all het up about why intelligent, educated women are obsessing a book that involves S&M style sex. Our little corner of the world has gone crazy over Fifty Shades - and I bet you anything it will start taking off in the UK soon. (Interestingly, the author, E.L. James, is British, although she sets her novels in Seattle. Some American friends told me that they had to 'look up' some of the British expressions she uses in the book, although I can't say I noticed.)

So - the burning question - is it any good? Reader, I could not put it down (and that's a trilogy of books, not just one). That's not to say it's the best-written book ever - it's not. The writing is pretty pedestrian (some of it reads like the worst kind of Mills and Boon romance), it's a bit repetitive and there are some preposterous plot elements. But the core story had me fascinated. It's the story of a naive English Lit. student, Anastasia, who goes to interview a 27 year old self-made billionaire called Christian Grey. (Think Mark Zuckerberg, if he was gorgeous). They are attracted to each other, but it's not that simple: he's into seriously kinky sex and wants her to become his 'submissive'; in other words, he refuses to have a normal relationship. She hasn't ever had a boyfriend before, so isn't quite sure what to think.

There's an awful lot of very explicit sex in the book, but there's a plot too - the story really turns on who will submit to whom. Will she become his sex slave, or will he compromise and have a more regular ("vanilla") relationship with her? Along the way, he turns out to be emotionally damaged (aren't all the best romantic heroes? But this one is particularly dark), and she turns out to be stronger than you originally thought.There's a predatory older woman (dubbed "Mrs. Robinson"), a deranged ex-mistress and a psycho boss to contend with too.

I guess every generation has to have its 'book' to whisper about. I remember my Mum and her friends being fascinated by Jilly Cooper's Riders, back in the 80s; it was considered seriously raunchy. Women like reading about sex - this isn't new (although some of the commentaries about this book on US TV would have you think so). However, I think the reason this one is so popular is not so much the 'soft porn' element, but that it's pure escapism. It's romance; it's fantasy; it's about a wealthy, seriously sexy hero who it's fine to fancy on the pages of a book (although in real life, you'd probably run a mile from his control freakery and stalker-ish tendencies). And it's also very modern - the lovers banter via emails and Blackberries, he gives her a Macbook laptop and makes iPod playlists for her to tell her how he feels. (Heathcliff and Mr Rochester never had that at their disposal, now did they?).

While a few people at my book club hated it, the rest were raving about it in a way I haven't seen people behave about a book since I was at school in the 80s, and we were all reading Flowers in the Attic. Meanwhile, reportedly the book has been snapped up by a major US publisher (Vintage Books) and may well become a film. Fifty Shades may be a craze, but it's not one that's going to go away.

13 comments:

Iota said...

Ooh interesting.

Knackered Mother said...

Flowers in the Attic....my god, what a blast from the past! I think this sounds like a great BC read, in that it will undoubtedly split opinion.

Circles in the Sand said...

Great write-up A! I can't wait to read it. And thanks for the Flowers in the Attic reminder - I LOVED those books! Weren't there at least 4 in the end? I devoured the lot, along with Malory Towers!

Mud said...

Might have to look that up! I blame my dogeared copy of Jilly Cooper's Polo for my B in physics GCSE. I mean - physics revision vs Rupert Campbell-Black? What a choice!

Nota Bene said...

I shall suggest it to The Cat's Mother...meanwhile I'm Googling Mommy Porn...

Suburban Princess said...

I was just reading about this yesterday...seems men's stores can't keep grey ties in stock!

About Last Weekend said...

My friends are I - all seemingly educated feminists - were potty about Jilly at University. I am going to have to look into this book - maybe a way to make a bit of dosh without having to be a great writer?

nappy valley girl said...

Iota - indeed. I wonder how it would go down in your neck of the woods?

KM - I have never seen the book club more animated...

Circles - not sure I made it past the first two Flowers books - they were pretty awful, but everyone was obsessed with them!

Mud - I am a big Jilly fan. Rivals was my favourite....

NB - Well don't blame me if she comes over all handcuffs and whips...

SP - I heard that too - hilarious!

ALW - definitely. And this author has something, even if she's not the greatest writer.

Anonymous said...

Sounds a little like The Bride Stripped Bare by Nikki Gemmell, it created quite a fuss at the time. Julia, ACT

Tanya (Bump2Basics) said...

I've just gone on maternity and have "supposedly" 1.5 weeks until baby is due (so if like last time, that will be another month!) Looks like one I should download and devour in the down time I have while LLC still in child care 3 days/week and baby has not yet arrived, thanks x

nappy valley girl said...

Tanya - it took me about 1.5 weeks to finish all three books. So you might make it!

Jay said...

That sounds like a book for my book club, I'll mention it at the next meeting - Flowers in the Attic! that takes me right back to college years!

geekymummy said...

I devoured them too, despite the really quite horrific writing the plot is compellig and I like a bit of erotica as much as the next woman. Now Jilly Cooper, though, she was classy. I must have been quite young (too young!) when I read riders and all the rest but you've remided me to go and pick those up again!