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It topped the New York Times bestseller list for 12 weeks, producers clambered for the film rights (before Universal Pictures and Focus Films pipped them to the post), celebrities are chomping at the bit to play the protagonists and earlier this year, the electronic version was repor-tedly being downloaded at the rate of one copy every second, while libraries have attempted to put a stop to the madness by banning the book from their shelves.
I am, of course, referring to the trilogy that has set the literary world spinning on its axis. Or the world of sexually frustrated women everywhere, at any rate.
And no, by “trilogy”, I do not mean the mentally captivating novels spawned by the late Stieg Larsson. Though many have – sacrilegiously! – dubbed it erotica’s response to the Millennium series (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; The Girl who Played with Fire; The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest).
Penned by the previously-unknown-now-turned-heroine-to-bored-housewives author, EL James, Fifty Shades of Grey has had readers across the globe turning 50 shades of pink as they leaf through the pages of what, to my mind, would be more accurately described as Mills & Boon meets Debbie Does Dallas.
Not only has it infused itself into the minds of pop culture pundits, Fifty Shades has become the source of fierce feminist and social debate. Albeit undeservedly so.
Why, you wonder? Because it is, in a word, drivel. And poorly written drivel at that.
Forget the thought-provoking plots and carefully constructed characters of classic titles from the legendary likes of Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath or Henrik Ibsen, which merited the broad-based, society-face-changing discussions they aroused.
The only element of arousal in Fifty Shades is that being experien-ced by the two key characters in all their slap, tickle, tie-me-up, tie-me-down splendour.
“Christian squirts baby oil on to his hand and rubs my behind with careful tenderness – from make-up remover to soothing balm for a spanked ass, who would have thought it was such a versatile liquid…” Ah yes. ’Tis indeed the stuff of deep intellectual musings.
Which isn’t to say a book need necessarily be a work of a Pulitzer Prize-winning cerebral standard in order to warrant breaking on to the bestseller platform. (Just look at the phenomenal success of Eat, Pray, Love or the Harry Potter series.)
But some semblance of an actual storyline that extends beyond whips and handcuffs would be nice, as would prose that doesn’t leave you feeling like you’ve gobbled a handful of stupid pills.
Still, bemoaning the fact Fifty Shades is an abysmally badly written book is akin to lamenting the poor plot or appalling acting in an adult movie. And that’s precisely the point: people aren’t reading it for its insightfulness or ground-breaking commentary. They’re reading it for mindless entertain-ment and, probably, as a means of vicariously living out their own baby oil fantasies.
And in that regard, EL James has whipped up the perfect “chocolate hot fudge brownie sex, with a cherry on top”.
Heaven help us!
LARA DE MATOS