50 Shades Of Grey: Mummy Porn Meets Rom Vom

Move over Twilight, the success of Fifty Shades Of Grey has raised the bar for nauseating romance "novels". Here's what's wrong with the year's bestseller:
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Move over Twilight, the success of Fifty Shades Of Grey has raised the bar for nauseating romance "novels". Here's what's wrong with the year's bestseller:

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Fifty Shades of Grey. The title alone caused thousands of Literature undergraduates to raise their eager heads, nostrils flared at the scent of blood. E.L. James' “erotic novel”, sneering quotation marks my own, has been ridiculed as embarrassing 'mommy porn' written in 'lamentable prose'; as 'vapid' and 'painful'; and, the cruelest of jibes for any serious writer, as a 'bad photocopy of [Stephanie] Meyer'.

Having read the Twilight Saga in its entirety, from Bella's clumsy entrance to the disturbing birth of her heinously-named daughter, I struggled to accept that any book – smutty or not – could achieve the harrowing lows of a novel in which the female protagonist spends a chapter describing the preparation of lasagne for her unappreciative and controlling father. Oh! how wrong I was.

Not unlike Twilight, the depiction of setting is detailed and drab. Such in-depth and tedious description is seemingly symptomatic of wet-dream writing. As James paints a painstakingly dull picture of Grey's office – the 'floor to ceiling windows, the 'white leather buttoned L-shaped couch','a mosaic of small paintings' – it is patently obvious that this is a room the author has thought ingreat detail about being fucked in, probably on the 'huge modern dark-wood desk that six people could comfortably eat around'. Quelle surprise, 350 pages later, dreary protagonist Anastasia Steele is being banged like the back-end of a congested ketchup bottle over that very desk in a sequence in which she rather embarrassingly refers to romantic interest Christian Grey as 'Mr Boy Scout'. Snore.

I wept with mirth when Ana described her subconscious as 'loud, proud and pouty' and Grey's voice as 'warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge.' Warm and husky like corn on the cob, more like.

E.L. James' “erotic” tale doesn't just resemble Twilight, it reeks of it. Remnants of Fifty Shades' previous status as Twilight fanfic fester in references to Grey being 'courteous, formal, slightly stuffy... old before his time'. Courting scenes between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele strictly follow the pattern of those between Bella Swan and and Edward Cullen in Meyer's Twilight: the life-saving sequence, the warning from male romantic interest to female, the tedious proclamations from one to the other of an inability to stay away. Supporting characters, though sorely lacking in believability, lack it in a way disturbingly similar to those of Twilight. Both mothers are 'harebrained' with 'the attention span of a goldfish'. Both female leads are hounded by the amorous interests of possessive men in school and the work place, and neither appears to see this behaviour as either bizarre or unacceptable.

Furthermore I'm struck by the tendency of both writers to utilise the work and themes of classic British writers to attempt to elevate their grim novels beyond their current level of poor pornography. As Meyer used Bronte, Shakespeare and Frost, James now abuses and reduces the complexities of Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles to make superficial comparisons with her own text.

Continuing beyond obvious comparisons with Twilight, this book only frustrated and nauseated me. Does James know any adverb but 'gracefully'? Narrative techniques in Fifty Shades are aggravatingly obvious: when the narrator 'reminds [herself] that Kate has been to the best private schools in Washington', we are not unaware that the only person being “reminded” is the reader. Description is at best stilted, at worst excruciating. I wept with mirth when Ana described her subconscious as 'loud, proud and pouty' and Grey's voice as 'warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge.' Warm and husky like corn on the cob, more like.

The problem with this giddy rom-vom of a novel is that a far more sinister theme runs beneath the harmlessly poor prose.

All this without getting to the naughty parts. In my attempts to refrain from being judgemental about the sexual interests and preferences of others, it is tempting to claim that the erotic scenes in Fifty Shades of Grey simply failed to press the right buttons to capture my interest – but this just isn't true. Like much else in this fetid, festering tale of 'The One', the portrayal of sex and sexuality seemed lacking in depth, honesty and eloquence. From the moment Ana referred to the 'clenching' of her 'deepest darkest muscles' to the frankly relieving end of the novel, I squirmed and choked with tortured disbelief at each and every reference to 'ecstatic triumph', 'quivering insides' and 'sweet, leisurely torment'. I did, however, laugh at the description of Grey's cock 'springing free' from his pants, a reference to his penis as a 'Christian Grey flavour popsicle' and a comparison between 'vanilla' and 'chocolate fudge brownie sex'. Would that the intention had been comedy.

The problem with this giddy rom-vom of a novel is that a far more sinister theme runs beneath the harmlessly poor prose. The protagonist's journey from absolute virginity to erotic fulfilment doesn't read like the prototypical tale of sexual exploration. On the contrary, Anastasia Steele is initially repulsed by the thought of S&M and reluctant to participate. A large part of the early text is given over to her grooming for her role as “Submissive”: Christian Grey gives Anastasia expensive and unwanted gifts, plies her with alcohol, and threatens her with abandonment should she not submit to the “relationship” he wants. In a passage in which she considers the “contract” presented to her by Christian Grey, she expresses the concern that failure to comply will result in her 'alone with lots of cats'. While I concur that sexual exploration can be an important aspect of personal development, never shall I agree that fear of loneliness should motivate any individual to participate in any acts, sexual or not, for which they are not ready. Combine this icky sexual fear-mongering with the aggressive advances of male characters and minimal dialogue not focused primarily on men, and you've got a strong hint of sexist attitudes.

Fifty Shades has found great success and great abuse. Why? It struck that perfect, nauseating balance between gushing romance and seemingly explicit sex. Readers found in its pages all those myths which ought rightfully to be obsolete in this day and age, but aren't: that casual sex will open the gates for romance; that you can change a man, or make him love you against his will; and, if all else fails, you can win affection by changing or stifling your own personality. Unrealistic ideas for an unbearable exercise in human creativity: simply put, this book was shit.

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