Newspapers say it’s ‘mummy porn’, friends dub it ‘chic lit’, some just call it a spanking good read. But is ’Fifty Shades of Grey’ actually any good? Tony Mallett thrashed his way through it.
Confession time: a few years ago when reviewing ‘Twilight’, this writer received threats from several teenage girls due mainly to the following paragraph:
“After the 15th point at which the insufferable Bella says ‘Edward took me in his big, strong arms,’most readers will want the vampire to give in to his natural instincts…and rip her fucking head off.”
Given that the ‘Fiifty Shades…’ novels came about as a result of ‘fan lit’ based on the above-mentioned series of books, it’s perhaps no surprise that the E L James-created principal girl continues where Bella left off halfway through the Twilight saga – drippy, dippy, irritating, whiny and distinctly virginal.
Unlike Bella, however, the Girl in Grey is a virgin because she’s never felt horny before, whereas the Twilight teen can’t wait to get shagged silly by her Pale Male.
The author, James (and her knicker-wetting fanlit friends), clearly couldn’t wait for it either, so she penned this hands-down-your-pants effort, with Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Free following swiftly after.
So, let’s get the scene-setting out of the way first: Anastasia (or Ana) Steele is 21, has been in college studying literature for four years and, at the start of the first book, has never even touched herself ‘down there’ let alone been on the end of a right good (or even really bad) rogering.
She has yet to throw up through drink (until around page 60, that is, despite clanging back the wine/cocktails pretty-much every day) and although she’s had access to Kate-her-mate’s computer for several years, Ms Steele has apparently never possessed an email address.
Now, as a middle-class all-American girl of her age, one or two of the above are possible. But all four? Not a eunuch’s chance in a harem. And the truly pointless thing is that (with the exception of the ‘innocent virgin’ bit) none of these unlikely character quirks are in any way essential to what we’ll choose to call ‘the plot’.
Ana has, however, got a VW Beetle car and a cell phone, so is not quite as unwordly as her own literary heroine, Thomas Hardy’s Tess. (On that latter note, the many irritating attempts by EL James to compare her own leading lady to Tess and her leading man to, variously, Angel Clare and Alec d’Urberville - from the same Hardy novel – make the term ‘sadly deluded’ sound generous.)
Meanwhile, Christian Grey (where do they get their names from, these pussy-pulp writers?) is an under-30, ‘gorgeous’, immensely rich, helicopter-flying, fucked-up, adopted, abused, control-freak, wanker-bastard with a serious predilection for dominating young ladies. This he does (mainly) in his ‘Red Room of Pain’, which features a serious collection of whips, chains, manacles, clamps…and plenty of other natty/nasty bits and bobs.
He is also blessed with what Ana describes as an ‘impressive length’ (despite the fact that she has nothing to compare it to) and, after a couple of hundred pages spent reading about her inner goddess and her sub-conscious feelings of ‘ho’-dom, one is driven to wish that Christian would use said appendage to batter the silly cow half to death, or at least to knock some of the fuckwittery out of this (often very) wet woman.
Cutting to the chase, once the main protagonists have met/got together/done some touchy-feely stuff, the sex is steamy enough. But it’s really nothing more than these ‘mummy’ readers probably, ahem, came across in a Jackie Collins or Jilly Cooper novel.
Not only that, but most ladies-of-a-certain age will actually have been party to some or all of the sex acts described here, let alone simply read about them. And if reliving it all through a novel perhaps years later leads to some self-induced lady-garden rummaging, then all well and good.
Let’s try and justify that last paragraph: Speaking as a male (also of a certain age) who has happily enjoyed the company of a variety of women down the years, it is endlessly surprising what girls will happily get up to – and a bit of very mild bondage doesn’t even get close to ringing alarm bells, emergency words and ‘hard limits’.
Everyone has different tastes, obviously, but there are plentiful ladies out there who very much fancy getting their arses gently spanked occasionally. Just try asking them, lads (if they don’t ask first).
So what we essentially have here is sex that is really not too far off-the-map. Apart from the fact that most blokes aren’t as obsessed with the sado-masochistic thing as Grey is (and couldn’t afford a room kitted out solely for the purpose of tickling a woman’s fancy with the aid of a whip or two, even if they were), the nitty gritty stuff is not particularly odd, weird, or shocking.
For Ana, however – with her constant stream of ‘oh mys’ and ‘holy craps’ inbetween constant lip biting, chin grabbing and hair pulling – it’s a literal coming of age. And, oh my!, does she come.
If memory serves, and without going back to check, she has two-or-maybe-three monster climaxes during her first ever shag (yeah, right) and, throughout this entire bonkity-bonk-bonk of a book, never once fails to orgasm (when Grey wants her too), despite getting banged silly in every position you can think of, at whatever time of day it is, and whatever mood she happens to be in.
You may know better, but experience suggests that not too many girls will gush like a geyser with some ‘love balls’ suddenly stuffed up their still-sore fandango at 3am on Day One of their period – silk sheets, Bollinger or Johnny-damn-Depp notwithstanding. Most blokes would get a slap or be told: ‘Fuck off out of it, I’m sleeping.’
This La-La-Land lack of realism has caused some (women, mostly) to write that Ana’s non-stop girly-bit waterfalls are leading females to expect way too much of sex. Yups, doubtless it is. But, conversely, there’s not much being written about the devastating effect a failure to get their girl to pop her cork five-times-a-day will have on the lads.
In fact, add to that the very low probability that any male reading this will have all of the following: drop-dead gorgeous looks,: a billionaire lifestyle; a 30th birthday yet to arrive; wit, charm and a bloody big cock to boot, it’s surprising men aren’t turning Fifty Shades of Gay in their gazillions.
So, it’s just a load of fantasy drivel – the sex stuff – but that’s ok. The ‘mummies’ surely know this. Of course they do. Let’s face it, there must have been some (albeit possibly non-multiple-orgasmic) rumpy-pumpy going on at some point in their lives or they wouldn’t be mummies in the first place. They’re not idiots, it’s all just good, dirty sweaty, tingly fun and probably so popular precisely because it’s about the bum-slapping, BJs and other stuff that most couples stop doing two days after their honeymoon ends. Nostalgia nooky? Maybe.
Overall, despite the fact that EL James will never win any gongs for her writing abilities -‘Story of O’ or ‘Delta of Venus’ this most definitely ain’t – it’s funny in places, certainly an easy read and just about hot enough for one to imagine that, if all the female purchasers of ‘Fifty Shades…’ had read this book during the same week, the streets of the US, Britain and elsewhere would have been overflowing with soap suds from over-worked, knicker-stuffed launderettes.
Well, mostly…It must be added here that the often-disturbing and clearly very disturbed Mr Grey does step things up a tad throughout the course of the 500-odd condom-packet-ripping pages. This leads directly to a descent into relative darkness and new levels of pain, submission and arguably degradation for Ana, culminating in what we’ll call the clit-hanger at the end.
Suffice it so say that the percentage of women who would really fancy what Grey finally puts Ana through will doubtless be lower than that suggested earlier in this review.
So, holy crap, where next? Dunno - because although the relationship between Ana and Grey certainly travels a fair way during the course of the novel, this reviewer will not be reading the sequels. I don’t care about the wafer-thin characters one jot and the book doesn’t crash through enough barriers, challenge enough taboos or even cause enough eyebrow raising (let alone anything else). It’s also a bit embarrassing to be spotted reading it on the Metro.
Having said that, it would be mildly interesting to know whether Ana is persuaded to let Mr Grey shag her up her well-slapped,‘delectable’, pink, pert and smooth little arse. And whether or not she likes it.
So shoot me.