As Shades of Grey becomes the fastest selling book of all time, I was keen to read it for myself. Yet, I was also slightly worried. As someone who’s not deliberately chosen to read a porn book in her life, would it be too much, a little disturbing? And did I really want to read a book dubbed ‘mummy porn’ at all?
I needn’t have been concerned. Perhaps I’ve spent too long as a journalist (therefore unshockable!) but this truly is a book that I can recommend to my daughter (age 20) and my mother (age 76) as a light read. And I can say for sure both of them will have read sex scenes that are more erotic and shocking in many ‘normal’ books, let alone a book dubbed as ‘porn.’
Shades of Grey starts brilliantly well. It has an amazingly first chapter and in fact the first few pages should be studied by any wannabe writer as they are incredibly well written. No faffing about – you are immediately whisked into the story and the world of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele. And indeed, Christian Grey – a wealthy and gorgeous man in his twenties – inhibits a fascinating world. The descriptions of his office and staff (all blonde women) are intriguing, well described and you definitely want to read on and find out more (although sadly why he has all blonde staff is never touched on again.)
Christian Grey is the ultimate and classic romantic hero, who sweeps the heroine off her feet. He is wealthy, so good looking that every woman regardless of their age (and man for that matter) who meets him ‘blushes’ or is ‘speechless’ as they gaze in awe at him and to add to that, he constantly tells Anastasia he is monogamous, faithful, doesn’t want anyone else, only has eyes for her, only she turns him on, he has only ever shared a bed properly with her and so on. He is understanding to the point of being absolutely unbelievable, generous, strong, caring, intellectual, pithy, gives money to charity, works out regularly, eats healthily, turns up on time and even emails back immediately. Incredibly within hours of meeting each other, he is changed by her although quite why he was changed I am not sure.
This is because not so well defined is the main protagonist literary graduate Anastasia – is she just geeky (she describes herself as clumsy) or is she really a stunner who for unknown and not explored reasons has no confidence? Although the story is written through her rather juvenile eyes, with her point of view throughout, by the end of the book the reader is none the wiser and she remains a blurry character.
But what about the sex? After all, this is why this book has made headlines… is it truly such an erotic and sexy book that it can save a marriage or reinvent a woman’s sex life? Think cliche lines such as “I want you now” (Christian Grey, whose eyes regularly ‘burn with desire’ often says this) and Anastasia, who ‘gazes’ at Christian a lot also often blushes, flushes and ‘melts’ inside. Despite promise of Christian’s ‘red room of pain’ and a sex contract between the dominant Cristian Grey and Anastasia, whom he hopes will become his submissive, not a lot actually happens in this room. Instead, Christian who says he doesn’t enjoy straight ‘vanilla’ sex, seems to have rather a lot of it – and more often than not it actually happens in a normal bedroom in a normal bed. Christian also does (mostly) very ordinary sex in very usual positions. And Anastasia reaches the dizzy heights every time, sometimes several times and without a lot of effort from him. Yes, he does like to spank Anastasia’s botty occasionally but to be fair even that he is hardly pushy about. If Anastasia doesn’t like something, as being the perfect gentleman he says lots of times, she only has to say. He is irritatingly perfect to the point of being soppy and rather creepy.
Unfortunately, as the book continues the sex, a little like the vocabulary, is extremely repetitive and therefore becomes predictable and boring. Anastasia always thinks Christian ‘looks hot’ and says ‘holy sh*t’ and ‘Oh My!’ in her head way too often. Christian calls Anastasia the original nickname ‘baby’ and regularly says tells her she is ‘beautiful’ – even if she is in pyjamas with no make up. There is heavy emphasis on safe sex – there is the same sentence when Christian rustles with a condom every single time they do it.
Does Christian Grey ever ‘take’ our very willing and very easily sexually pleased Anastasia any other way than basically in his arms with a deep kiss? If as you read on you hope he will do, then be prepared to be disappointed. Some of the many similar sex scenes start off with promise of something vaguely erotic (if spanking is your thing) but soon develop into the same old in his arms with a kiss. She does do a few other ‘naughty’ things such as meeting his mother without her knickers on under her dress. But basically there is nothing in this book that hasn’t been written about in countless other modern day (and old) bodice busting romantic paperbacks that are not dubbed ‘porn’. There are few very rude words or names of body parts for example. In fact, Fifty Shades of Grey is much more Mills & Boon romance than Jackie Collins.
Meanwhile, the pair just seem like any other young couple in their twenties with too much spare time on their hands (Ok he is much richer with his own private jet, helicopter and so on) who have a strong attraction of lust towards one another and have sex a lot (any psychologist will tell you the vast majority of couples do have sex a lot for the first few months.) OK, he is also a little more obsessed about her period than you might want your partner to be (why I have no idea since it isn’t part of the sex either but seemingly put in so Christian can show how in touch he is with a woman’s feelings…) and he is control freaky and has worrying stalker tendencies (he keeps turning up in a masterful and masculine way wherever she is.) This is the story plot – does Anastasia want to be with someone as dominating and suffocating as this? Why is Christian like he is and should she enjoy having her bottom spanked or not? She endlessly wrestles with this major worry in her life.
Frankly by the end of it, I’d lost interest in whether she should be be with him or not – and ditto this conundrum about whether she should go along with his sexual preferences. I think – given the incredible hype – that I was expecting something much darker, much deeper and yes, a lot more erotic. But the story is light-weight and the sex is even more light-weight.
Did I enjoy it? Yes, as a book to read on the beach without any thought whatsoever, it’s perfect. But, is it a novel that, according to the sell will ‘obsess you, possess you and stay with you forever’? As neither the sex nor the storyline is memorable enough, I doubt it.
So why has this really quite ordinary book been such an astonishing hit? I can imagine other authors, who have probably penned far more emotional, heart wrenching and frankly much sexier and raunchier love scenes, reading Shades of Grey and asking themselves that very same question. But as I have said many times before – much is in the marketing. And Fifty Shades of of Grey is a masterpiece in marketing. Whoever thought up the phrase and new genre, ‘mummy porn’ should win some sort of literary agent/publishing prize. Labelling it as ‘porn’ but with the caveat that it can be enjoyed by ‘mummies’ was a stroke of genius – it has made openly reading about sex daring, but acceptable to the masses and most importantly, trendy and fashionable.
There are of course two more books in this trilogy – so will I be reading those? A friend confided she has skipped the sex scenes in the middle book. So it appears much of the same predictable sex then. This then leaves the rather underdeveloped characters and the somewhat thin storyline. So it remains to be seen if I will get round to reading them – but to be honest, probably not.
Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey? What did you think of it? We would love to know your thoughts below…