Fifty Shades of Grey, E.L. James. Book Review

 Whips and Chains and Dark secrets; Oh my!
by Kamille Roach

Written originally as Twilight fan fiction, Fifty Shades of Grey contains many parallels with Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga, and is successful for similar reasons. However, there is a lot more to this; pleasure-versus-pain theme, than a first glance reveals.

Like Meyer, E.L. James creates a couple who are drawn irresistibly to one another for no particular reason and to whom separation is agonizing. This has the ring of a bell rung many times, but does not cause loss of appeal. However, unlike Twilight, with its squeaky clean themes, characters and language; Fifty Shades crosses firmly into adult-only territory with BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadomasochism), and copious, sex scenes: so much so that it has been dubbed ‘Mommy Porn’.
So how does E.L. James create an erotic series that is accepted into the mainstream – to the extent middle aged women’s demand for the series, outstrips supply?
Turn up the heat level, keep the couple exclusive to each other and centre it around a wounded, wealthy, gorgeous man (with a dark side that will singe conservatively trimmed hair) and create an intense, good-girl, bad-boy relationship.
22 year old college graduate Ana (Anastasia Steele), meets mysterious, attractive Christian Grey and sparks fly. But as Ana doggedly pursues Christian; despite his warning her off, he presents her with a shock designed to test her suitability for him and his sexual tastes: a ‘playroom’ complete with restraints and whips for a seasoned BDSM participant.
A too and fro begins: Ana falls deeply for Christian, but deep enough to agree to be the Sub (Submissive sexual partner) to his Dominant; she’s yet to decide – and for good reason. As his Sub, she will be expected to live and behave according to his rules; receive punishment at his discretion and be available for his sexual pleasure in whichever form he desires.
Pulse rate increased yet?
The intriguing thought she may well agree to these terms, coupled with frequent erotic content and tidbits about Christian’s telling past, keep the pages turning.
This is clearly erotica written for women by a woman. No male author alive would give his characters clichéd looks like ‘impossibly long lashes’, or have him so clued up about the female menstral cycle he sounds like a Gynaecologist.
The strength of the book seems to be its light hearted approach in coaxing the mainstream, female reader into some dark and less trodden places – BDSM, sexual role-play and the physical and emotional scars left by child abuse and neglect. It has the ability to educate, challenge preconceptions and sexually arouse. It suggests that physical pain in a controlled environment, such as a stinging whipping to the backside, is an alternative and sometimes preferable option to uncontrolled emotional pain, such as the result of abuse, loss or heartbreak. The idea that the submissive holds the power; the desire of the Dominant, is intriguing.
Ana and the reader are presented with the ‘Rules’ no less than three times; possibly so all three parts of her head: Ana, her inner goddess, and her subconscious – who all get a regular say in the story –  get a chance to peruse it. The constant use of ‘Oh my’, from Ana (and her two inner parts) seems incongruous coming from a modern, 22 year old woman. I expected, at any moment, Judy Garland to pop up and exclaim; ‘whips and chains and secrets; Oh my!’
Mainstream erotica has enjoyed success in the past, and popularity is cyclical. Fifty Shades of Grey is a contemporary offering and delivers a good, semi-taboo read to titillate the masses.
The dialogue is not brilliant; the repeated appearance of an inner goddess and subconscious tedious, but for the most, Fifty Shades is scrumptious fare, or at least attractive entree.
 Published by Arrow books, 2012; 514 pages; paperback.

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