Tuesday 12 March 2013

Fifty Shades of Grey

Just to make it clear, this is not a blog about Farrow and Ball’s latest colour chart (although you’ve got to love a company which has “Dead Salmon” and “Mouse’s Back” as two of its signature colours). This is a blog inspired by E.L James’s bestselling trilogy and I am writing it about nine months too late; I am certainly not going to win any awards for being most topical blogger. The whole “Fifty Shades” phenomenon is now a distant memory; it belongs to the summer of the 2012, along with the London Olympics and endless weeks of rain. I have reached the stage where I can almost feel nostalgic for Christian Grey with his crisp white shirts, hip-hugging jeans, expensive bodywash and penchant for weirdy sex.

I say “almost” because Fifty Shades of Grey is a pretty rubbish book (and I know that this quality analysis is not going to get me on the review sofa of BBC2’s The Culture Show any time soon).  I made it through the first part of the trilogy (just) and was left feeling like I had been the victim of the biggest marketing conspiracy of the 21st century.  I read it simply because everyone else in the world had read it and I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. This was peer pressure on a global scale.  I can only assume that everyone else fell into the same trap because I cannot believe that this is what 40 million people around the world like to read?

What worried me most wasn’t the casual references to nipple clamps or Christian’s “playroom”, or Anastasia’s bizarrely wholesome cursing (“Holy hell, oh Lordy… my inner goddess is doing somersaults”) - it was the fact that the unprecedented worldwide success of these books serves only to re-affirm the age-old notion that every woman secretly yearns to be dominated in all areas of her life: intellectually, sexually and financially. Bugger the education and career, all us women really want is an alpha male with some deviant sexual predilection and a Jo Malone loyalty card to come and whisk us off our feet.

This is not a scene from Fifty Shades.
Before I start burning my bra, I need to confess that I didn’t totally hate the first book, but by the time I got halfway through book number two I was actually speed-reading through the sex scenes to get back to the important business of imagining what it would be like to live in a big mansion on the ocean on the Pacific Northwest of America. I didn’t even start the third book.

I was quite vocal about how I felt about Fifty Shades – the phrase “badly-written crap” was bandied about for some time in my house. So imagine my surprise when on Christmas morning I discovered that Santa had left me a copy of a book which featured a black and white grainy cover and the slightly dubious title “Eighty Days Yellow”.  (Hint to authors – yellow is not a sexy colour; it is the colour of bruises and custard, not titillation).  Apparently a lady on Huddersfield Market had recommended it as a “good read” to my husband.  This book demonstrates perfectly why the lady from Huddersfield Market will not be heading up the Booker Prize selection committee. 

It was awful, actually it was worse than awful.  Jointly written by an established author under a pseudonym and a first time writer “who works in the City” (don’t give up the day job), it followed/cashed-in on the Fifty Shades theme of BDSM (otherwise known as kinky stuff), omitted the glamorous settings, and just cut straight to the dark business of Submissives, pain and humiliation. The story culminates with a scene where the main female character is practically raped.  I was aghast.  This book is being marketed as “mummy porn” (a media phrase which is just ‘bleurgh’ on every level!). Since when did rape and women being powerless become the stuff of mainstream titillation?

I am an avid recycler but I have to admit that I put Eighty Days Yellow straight in the bin – I didn’t think the nice old ladies at the Animal Welfare charity shop would approve of this particular addition to their second hand book-shelf. But then again maybe I have got this all wrong – perhaps this is exactly what ladies of a certain age, who volunteer to help homeless cats, want.  

Who could forget "Ralph"?
Right or wrong, I suppose what depresses me most is the idea that these are the books that could inform my daughters’ adolescent literary sexual education.  I just have to hope that they discover Judy Blume and Jilly Cooper first.