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"Fifty shades of grey" is a very naughty book indeed, which wantonly and flagrantly breaks the rules of plagiarism. The most obvious rip-offee is the film "Secretary": The lead males share a name (Grey), as well as a predilection for sadism and dictating eating habits. In addition, there is a contract drawn up to mediate the relationship (Venus in Furs), which reads more like the questionnaire given to prospective blood donors; the two leads spend about 95% of the book "party of the foist part"-ing over its various dull terms. Christian Grey's "red room of pain", owes something to Angela Carter's "Bloody Chamber", and the whole premise of women becoming beguiled by money and status has already been worked to within an inch of its life by "9 and a half weeks", and pretty much any other dreadful 80's film you could probably think of. However, in this particular case, I would advocate waiveing the principle of ignorance being no defense in the eyes of the law, as it is impossible to believe that E. L. James has ever read anything beyond the "Twilight" series, Judy Blume's "Forever", and "Take a Break", for all the book guffs on about "Tess of the D'Urbervilles".
The writing has been widely criticized for being awful, and much has been made of the heroine Ana's internal dialogue, the relentless "oh my", the "inner goddess" and the facial tic that causes her to chew on her lower lip. However, for this reader, the book was a personal first for its punctuation of sexual intercourse with the written ejaculation, "Aargh." "Aargh?" Is this erotica? It's like getting off on Adam West's "Batman".
The book is commonly described as being about BDSM, but it clearly isn't. It's less extreme than the average ""Beano comic. When Ana first sees Christian's secret dungeon lair, equipped with some Ann Summers paraphernalia, she compares it to the Spanish Inquisition. However, I must remind the gentle reader that Torquemada did not achieve notoriety by paddling suspected heretics. I almost expected Ana's horrified gaze to reveal a fiendish collection of comfy chairs (except, of course, I didnft expect, because NO-ONE expects the etc. etc.)
Ana is an incredibly unwilling submissive, whose list of "hard limits" reads like the rules displayed on the walls of public swimming pools. She is matched in that sense by Christian, described as a pathological sadist, who, despite this and his aversion to any physical intimacy or contact, is both willing and able to perform in a "normal" sexual relationship, if by "normal" you mean a lot of pointless acrobatics interrupted by "Aargh". If anything was ever calculated to make a submissive switch roles, it would probably be some douchebag telling them when their period's due.
The dark secret behind Christian's perverse sexual desires, it transpires, is that his mother was a "crack whore". Yes, you read that right. This is the "Daily Mail" universe that the book resides in, where "crack whore" is deemed sufficient explanation for a multitude of ills. Child poverty? Crack whores. London riots? Crack whores. Unconvincing sadism? Crack whores. Indeed, far from being depraved, Christian's list of rules for Ana seems to have been copied from his Cub Scout Handbook: No drinking to excess, no illegal drugs, no masturbating (makes you go blind, yeah?) It can only be a matter of time before Michael Gove calls for the novel to be learnt by rote by every schoolchild under the age of 7.
An important element of the story is Grey's wealth and power. Yet under these boundless horizons are some revealing limits, which make the book read more like an Austen-esque meta satire of the nouveau riche, set amidst Holiday Inns with Britney playing on the i-Pod in the Audi. If I was going to write a fantasy of a man with unparallelled wealth and power, he would be smashing Faberge eggs on his head. He wouldn't be sitting in Costa Coffee while his (endlessly fascinating) girlfriend ponders how they make the shapes in the cappuccino froth.
Typically, the books most shocking brutality is that perpetrated against female identity. Ana, in spite of being a blushing virgin, discovers to her delight that she can deep throat like a pro. Oh, hurrah! Bravo! It's probably the most empowering depiction of female sexuality since Kim Basinger thought actually, she could get used to all this non consensual sex stuff in "9 and a half weeks". Apart from that, Ana can't sustain a single thought that doesn't involve her man, and engages in a load of neurotic drunken jealousy that begs the question, why pay 3 quid to read about it when you can quite easily go out and get one of your own?
So, 20 million copies sold. What women really want-to be ineptly dominated by a 27 year old who can pay for their smart phone contract and their coffee tab. Oh my. Oh my fucking god. And, probably, Aarghh.