Just as you don’t need to be talented to be celebrated these days, you don’t need to be any good at writing to be a bestselling author. This was increasingly in evidence throughout seven instalments of the Harry Potter books (though I forgave JK Rowling, owing to the millions of children in whom she inspired a love of literature), and is painfully on show in the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.
I’ve only read one of EL James’ three books, by the way – Fifty Shades of Grey. Life’s too short for the rest of the series, and my brain was numbing up. More than my exhaustion from reading the shoddy writing, I simply didn’t give a phlegmatic cock what happened to the implausible characters.
But I’m still glad I read Fifty Shades of Grey, if for no other reason than it’s a pretty funny book. And here are my top ten reasons why:
10 – On page 26 of the book, anti-hero Christian Grey goes into the HARDware shop where the object of his lust, Anastasia Steele, works. What does he do in the HARDware shop? He buys cable ties and masking tape while COCKing his head in the SCREW aisle. Subtle.
9 – Anastasia falls head over heels in lust with the mysterious Grey. He charms her with his good looks, immense wealth and mysterious ways. Here’s a genuine sentence from the book describing how she sees him: “His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel… or something.”
8 – We are told – on no less than four occasions throughout the book – that Christian smells of “freshly laundered linen and some expensive body wash”. This much-repeated phrase conjures up an olfactory image of Bold 2in1 and Java by Lynx in my mind’s nose. Sexy. (See also: “Oh my… Sweat and body wash and Christian. It’s a heady cocktail. So much better than a margherita.”)
7 – The night before Christian finally seduces virginial Anastaia, she goes out and gets steaming drunk, and calls him from the stinky toilets of a bar. Being her knight in shining armour, Christian comes to rescue her from the toilets… and she thanks him by vomming all over his expensive shoes. Yet still he boffs her the next night and buys her a laptop. Romance is not dead.
6 – EL James has a fascinating choice of adjectives at her disposal. For instance, we learn that Christian talks “phlegmatically” and that he “quirks” his eyebrows. My favourite metaphorical moment in the whole book, however, is when Anastasia blushes “the colour of the Communist manifesto”. That’s literature that is, right there.
5 – Despite his wealth, none of Christian’s clothes fit properly. Throughout the book, we are repeatedly told that his grey linen trousers are hanging off his jutting hips “just so”. Doesn’t that make you want to mother him?
4 – During the sexy bits, an extraordinary amount of page space is devoted to the removal of each other’s Converse trainers and socks. I’m not making it up.
3 – When the characters (aged 21 and 27) choose to listen to music, they listen to such contemporary artists as Snow Patrol, Bruce Springsteen and Kings of Leon. It’s like EL James rang my dad (73) and asked him to name drop a few bands that the young people like these days.
2 – Without the Fifty Shades of Grey series, we would never have met Anastasia’s inner goddess. I like to think of the ever-present inner goddess as a Tinkerbel-lite figure… ie, if we all believe in her, she WILL exist. Even better, her inner goddess is constantly at war with her subconscious, meaning that we have three female heroines for the price of one. But which would win in a fight?
1 - However, the best sentence in the entire book is this one: “My heartbeat has picked up, and my medulla oblongata has neglected to fire any synapses to make me breathe.” I’m not making it up. I promise, hand on heart, that that is a genuine, unadulterated sentence from the book. In fact, EL James is so pleased with her use of the term “medulla oblongata” that it’s not long before it cracks a second mention. (Medical ignoramuses will be turned on to learn that the “medulla oblongata” is the part of the brain that controls breathing and vomiting. It’s true. I checked on Wikipedia.)
Of course, I’m being flippant. Fifty Shades of Grey is badly-written, populist tripe that’s benefitted from a great marketing campaign. And just as Oasis became famous because everyone bought their records when they heard everyone else was buying their records, people are buying Fifty Shades of Grey because they don’t want to be left behind. Hell, I only read it because everyone else was, so who am I to talk? Exactly.
PS – I’ve deliberately avoided mentioning the many reasons why this book is a feminist’s worst literary nightmare. The contracted ownership, coupled with the stalking, mental and physical abuse, and more… it’s appalling to see the mainstream acceptance of such behaviour in 2012, at a time when we should be further ahead than ever in putting an end to this degrading treatment of women. But there are many other people, far better qualified than me to speak on such matters, who have already written about this so well in relation to these books.