After seeing the very British E.L.James on a chat show recently and knowing straight away that if I saw her again on the street I wouldn’t recognise her, I became interested as to what all the fuss over ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is about.
The lady author is the absolute antithesis of sexy, sleaze kitten and could so easily be a kindergarten teacher and yet her book has apparently got half the women in the western world panting inappropriately in all the wrong places and at the wrong times. Now I’m not normally a fan of ‘chick lit’ (what an insulting term that is) but when I heard that sex shops and sexual accoutrement websites were selling out of whips, chains, dildos and butt plugs like there was no tomorrow, my curiosity was more than a little piqued. After all, if a first book, by a new author, sells 60 million copies to straight women and apparently significant numbers of LGBT readers in no time at all; you’ve got to take a look right? E.L.James has suddenly flown into the heady stratosphere that is J.K.Rowling territory!
After the first few chapters and several ‘mehs’ later, I almost abandoned the task, thinking I was definitely not the target group and then...it got me! The author claims there was no plan, no structure in her mind when she wrote the book; it just came pouring out of her. Well, to my mind, frankly it shows now and then but oddly that doesn’t detract from its overall impact.
Lots of scenes are pretty much unbelievable too; there’s no cleaning up of messy bodily fluids and next morning, semen breath is not an issue that is tackled. The hero can apparently have mind-blowing’ sex countless times during the day without taking a breath, or losing potency (that said he is only 28). He runs a massive business empire and is a gazillionaire with a bottomless bank account yet apart from a few phone calls and emails here and there, hardly conforms to the north American work ethic because he’s too busy having sex.
The plot line is wafer thin but is gripping enough to keep you wanting more (a bit like the nipple clamps the heroine learns to enjoy). I don’t think it’s great literature; in fact the number of repetitions of high octane orgasms sort of leaves you wondering how she’s going to top that and reach a climax in the book (cheap pun, I know) and yet it’s still got something. Its high quality erotica; a sort of Mills and Boon meets ‘Debbie Does Seattle’ mix but with more class than you expect.
I suspect its success has left many straight men choking on their cornflakes, as she appears at the bottom of the stairs, baking spoon in hand, growling ‘Take me now!’ They’ve realised that the performance monitor expectations have just been raised another twenty notches. You have to feel sorry for them’ yet again they’re being emasculated, even though it may seem that the dominant man rules this book. The truth is that this book may be as liberating for women as “The Female Eunuch’ was, way back when.
So given that I’m a gay man who’s pretty much seen and read it all as far as yawn porn is concerned, what’s the attraction to non-heterosexuals?
Now, I’m not aroused by explorations of the female sex organs and I’ve never really been into S&M, however vanilla it might be, as many a man who has tweaked my nipples (having finally found them) has discovered. ‘Get off, it hurts!’ is not the best way to prolong a hot date! The Dom/Sub relationships are interestingly explored but really need much more elaboration. That said; they will open many people’s eyes as to what that world is like. This book however, has touched a chord, even with me. Even at my advanced age, my curiosity about this, that and the other from the SM spectrum has been reawakened.
We’ve probably all at least touched on S&M in our experiences, or at least thought about it. Many couples have tried things to spice up relationships; others have rejected it out of hand and yet others belong to regular circuit groups who take it very seriously indeed. I would dare to say that it fascinates us on quite a deep level. That’s one of the secrets of the success of Fifty Shades; it opens up a world that many people have never really dared to explore but have always been curious about.
Forget about the fact that it’s straight erotica. If you’re a gay man, you’ll lust after Christian Grey and if you’re a gay woman, you’ll lust after Anastasia Steele; trust me on this one, you will!
The names shouldn’t put you off (I know right; straight out of Barbara Cartland!) because the second major secret of this book’s success, is the unashamed Soap quality of the characterisation and plot. Basically it’s a love story. The man is on the surface, super rich, super powerful and unbelievably controlling in all aspects of his life. Of course the reason for that is that he is broken and comes from a severely abusive childhood. He compensates for his demons by controlling every aspect of his environment and making millions in the process. The woman is a virginal, girl next door type, with a low opinion of her own attractiveness. She meets the hero, falls under his spell, realises why he’s the way he is and subtly changes him. There’s murder and mystery slotted in to add a little more spice and there you have it. That’s it in a nutshell; a thousand and one soap opera plot lines in one book.
The huge difference and the thing that sets it apart from most others is the sex. Ana calls it ‘kinky fuckery’ and she’s right on so many levels. However, remember, the author has already got you if you like ‘Sex and the City’, or ‘Tales of the City’ or any number of good soaps on TV because the formula underpins the rest of the book. Love, good and evil, money, sex, death, overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles; they’re all here but the sex...now that’s pretty different for a mega best seller.
I’m looking at it from the viewpoint of a gay man with HIV but I’m certain all sexes and sexual colours of the rainbow will find something in this book because it appeals to a deeper, darker sexual need in human beings. LGBT people will be able to put themselves into every sexual situation in the book because it doesn’t matter that the two protagonists are male and female and heterosexual – they’re very sexual beings and that’s what counts. It also looks into the issues of control and release and how far you want to control someone else, or let yourself go and surrender. In LGBT relationships and even hook-ups, when both sexes are the same, that can be an interesting and confrontational scenario.
Apart from the erotic elements, you want to save Christian yourself; cuddle him when he can’t bear to be touched and help him defeat his demons. You cheer Ana on as she adjusts to her new world and discovers a deep longing for top quality human contact and new experiences via sex. You applaud her every breakthrough with this impossible man and adore him as he discovers previously unknown and lovable traits within himself.
You do all this because you can see yourself doing it. Who wouldn’t want to rescue a broken man/boy and change his life forever, whilst at the same time vastly improving your sex life and stretching your boundaries? Who wouldn’t want to make a virgin fall head over heels with you, bombard her with gifts and thrill as she takes tentative steps into your fantasy world? The point is that for gay people, Ana and Christian are interchangeable; you can switch their sexes and be both in your imagination without the slightest difficulty.
It has to be said, the money helps and is a brilliant device in the book because it takes away any need to ever do normal things, which let’s face it are generally boring for the readers and detract from the fantasy. Everything is bought in, including the staff and fantasy scene builders who can be and are, fired at a whim. Food is provided by the housekeeper (who also has the doubtful pleasure of cleaning up after sex sessions) and transport is provided by burly, inscrutable men and planes and helicopters.
Ana abandons her principles and overcomes her reservations just a tad too readily for my taste. She adapts to her world as soon as the white Audi A8 is presented for her birthday but she never comes over as a gold digger, it’s much more complicated than that and you end up feeling that she deserves every cent for what she has to put up with. The fact that money is no problem means that you can indulge yourself as a reader, in her quest for his soul and his battle to come to terms with his own humanity.
The sex is repetitive and pretty much unbelievable in terms of how many times they do it and how many earth-shattering climaxes are had by all but because of the nature of the ‘kinky fuckery’ it’s never really boring. I found myself, suggesting, do this or do that, or get on with it, several times during the story but that was shameless transference behaviour on my part. Believe me, if you’re gay, you’ll be into every scenario here, you’ll just need to suspend disbelief and make Ana a man or Christian a woman. Surprisingly, that’s not a problem.
So without wishing to give too much away if you haven’t read it; the trilogy, Fifty Shades of Gay (sorry couldn’t resist!) is a bit of a phenomenon. It ain’t going away in the near future either; there are three films in the pipeline and you can start compiling your lists of who will play who right now and the unassuming E.L.James is planning more saucy escapades.
To my mind the fantasy and imagination which make the book so appealing, will never be convincingly translated to film, especially in prudish America. You need the sex scenes to be exactly as they are in the book – not going to happen! Even the Sundance festival might baulk at three films about sex which are not meant to be porn but you can be sure Hollywood will cash in.The author says that it’s like living her life through someone else’s eyes at the moment and the success and fame is surrealistic. Oh lady, you ain’t seen nothing yet! I’d get on the phone to J.K.Rowling right away if I were you!
Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L.James, is actually a trilogy made up of: Fifty Shades of Grey; Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed.