a trilogy of erotic books about a wealthy businessman and a young graduate by the author E L James. They're the fastest selling paperbacks of all time, even surpassing Harry Potter.
What the attraction is I couldn't tell you, as I haven't read them. Apparently they involve BDSM* and are extremely explicit. Guardian reviewer Jenny Colgan however finds them surprisingly tame and innocent: "The sole erotic thing anyone ever does is bite or play with their bottom lip."
I daresay it's one of those situations where a book gains a racy reputation way beyond its actual content, and word of mouth and idle curiosity mean thousands of people are surreptitiously buying it to find out what all the fuss is about.
That's despite a bevy of reviewers making withering comments on the "treacly clichés", "awful descriptions", "clunky prose" and "asinine phrases". But then most book-readers aren't attracted by high-flown literary outpourings, whatever we culture vultures might think. They just want a good read on the beach.
It seems that some of the interest is rooted in the sexual politics of the three books, which revolve around a virginal woman's affair with a more experienced man keen on sexual domination. Feminists have argued fiercely about whether the heroine is liberated and free-thinking or stuck in some sexist dark age.
Groundbreaking they certainly aren't, according to Jenny Colgan. She thinks they're heavily derivative, the businessman being straight out of "Pretty Woman" and his apartment recalling Frasier Crane's penthouse - "I kept expecting Eddie to arrive and do something amusing on the expensive furniture." The flirtatious emails are lifted from Bridget Jones while the sex is indebted to Ann Rice.
What has surely boosted the trilogy's sales is the much-noted quirk that slightly embarrassing books can be read unobtrusively on e-readers, since unlike a paperback they don't broadcast the content to all and sundry. So the demure middle-aged woman on the bus can be happily enjoying the whips and handcuffs regardless of the other passengers.
But however great my curiosity, I don't think I'll be sampling Ms James any time soon. I suspect my own fantasies are far racier than anything she could have concocted.
* for those from a sheltered background, bondage domination and sadomasochism
The three books are Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed
PS: This review is hilarious