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50 Shades of mindless drivel?

Okay, so it is on everybody’s “must read” list for 2012, and everybody is talking about it. In a time when book sales are at an all time low, E L James’ Fifty Shades trilogy were the bestselling books in the UK – in the week leading up to 16/5/2012, scoring combined sales of 112,388 copies.

Book one, Fifty Shades of Grey, accounted for 45% of that total (50,582 copies), and took just shy of £215,000 through bookshop tills, and figures are much the same around the globe. And I guess the big question is WHY????

We know that the books are fan fiction based on the characters from Twilight, so we shouldn’t be expecting the writing to be fantastic… and lets face it, it certainly isn’t going to win any literary awards! The characters are very two dimensional and often leave you wondering why they are even present in the story as they offer no real substance to the plot. Which brings me to the question “what plot?”. The entire trilogy can be summed up with – Girl meets guy, blah blah, tie me up, spank me, sexy-sexy, blah blah, spank me, sexy, blah blah, the end. And yet we are all fascinated enough to pick up a copy and give it a go. Most of the women (and some men) that I have spoken to have said that they don’t like the books, but they just can’t seem to put them down. One woman likened the trilogy to a car crash “you know you shouldn’t look, you know it’s going to end badly and you’re going to regret it… but you just can’t turn away”!! So again, WHY???
I can only offer my theories, but I sure would be glad to hear your opinions too.

Firstly, I never put down a book that I haven’t finished. So I can honestly say that every bad book I have ever read, has been read right to the last painful sentence. Luckily for E.L James I think a lot of avid readers are the same, otherwise I doubt anyone would get further than the middle of the first book. The repetion of language and prose had my inner editor cringing (pun intended). One of the first things I was taught in my high school English class was don’t ever use the same words more than once in a paragraph. James offers us the same words more than once in a sentence and then repeats them every second sentence! Which makes every sentence read just like the sentence before, and then each sentence starts to blend in with the next sentence!! Phrases like “Stow your twitchy palm” and references to “my inner goddess” come to mind. However I did find that – if you got past the first novel – things did get slightly better in the second and third books. Almost as if the publishing company realised that people were actually buying this tripe and decided to allocate an editor to the project?

I also imagine that there is an element of Twilight based loyalty that would have initially pushed sales. I personally think the only heroine more insipid and annoying than Bella, is 50’s Anastasia. I don’t quite see the connection between Edward and Christian (unless it is they are both young and rich?) and I did not recognise any other twilight characters either. But still, readers are a die-hard lot and if you are a fan, chances are you will pursue a storyline right through to the very end. I am the same with all things Stephen King.

But do these things warrant the hype and the sales generated by the trilogy? I think not. I believe that the old adage “sex sells” is perfectly on display here. And there is more than enough sex in the book to push sales for the next hundred years. So much so that by the second novel was skimming over the fornication thinking to myself “get it over with already” and by the third book I was completely skipping it! However that isn’t to say that the first book had me (and many other ladies too, I think) feeling a little bit hot under the collar. Add to the steamy scenes a little bit of controversy and BAM!! Best seller list here we come

Some people have suggested that the frenzy has been instigated by bored, frustrated housewives. Others feel that the book objectifies women. I dont belive either are true. I think – as with all stories, good or bad – the book allows the reader to safely immerse themselves in an activity that they wouldn’t usually, and I know just as many men that have enjoyed a little fantasy stimulated by the 50’s books, as women. Which is a very healthy thing, and hardly limited to those who are “frustrated”. I also think that it is a little naive to presume that there are not people (women and men) who would enter into this type of relationship willingly, and find it enjoyable. I don’t believe this is objectifying women more than describing a consentual relationship between two adults. And really, I don’t consider the book clever enough to be anything more than that. I would go so far as to say that overthinking this whole angle would just be giving the story and the author way more credit than they are due.

So am I any closer to figuring out why these books are the talk of the town? No All I know is that as rubbish as they are, I read all three books – cover to cover – as did most women I know. I am no smarter or more enlightened for doing so, and I am sure that these could very well be the worst three books I have ever read.

BUT…..

What mindless, smutty trashy entertainment! And what kind of baby boom can we expect in nine months time?

What did you think? Are the books living up to the hype? Do you think they objectify women or offer a harmless little fantasy to the frustrated few?

The next book I am reading is one by Australian author Caroline Overington. “Matilda is Missing” was recommended to me by our very own BH editor, and is shaping up to be one of those books that you just can’t put down. So grab yourself a copy and read along with me.

Don’t forget to let me know if you have read anything worth talking about lately… I am loving the recommendations I have been getting and have got quite a list of future reads!

Until next time, happy reading!

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2 comments so far -

  1. I too represent the small minority.
    I purchased the trilogy intending to give as a joke for a gf’s birthday. Very unfortunately, I decided to read it instead. Now I’m out the cost of all 3 books, the time it took to read 2.5 of them and at least 20 IQ points. I have very little time to read these days and this is what I chose?? My inner goddess is in permanent time out for thinking this was a good idea.

  2. I haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey and until recently, had no idea what it was about. I don’t think I particularly want to read it!

    If you haven’t read it, I would recommend “Sister” by Rosamund Lupton. The storyline can get a bit stereotypical at times, but I really love how the different characters in the book develop. With some books I read, it seems like every person has a very similar personality type. But with this book, every character is very unique and captivating.

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