Monday, 25 June 2012

Hot off the press

Once again I'm baffled by the latest publishing sensation. In this case it's 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 clich├ęs", "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 


  1. I found this review on Facebook this morning and it had me in stitches!

    I'm a bit wary of the 'latest flavour' in reading and I have to say, the passages quoted in the blog post, really doesn't have me panting at Amazon to download it any time soon.

    I'm a snob. I'll admit it. I like some standards. Even in my porn.

  2. I'm with Roses. A review I read early on said it was written at about a 5th grade level. No thanks.

    I find it odd that the reviews I've read say it IS explicit, but you quoted someone saying it's not at all explicit? I don't think there would be such a demand if it wasn't fairly racy.

  3. the power of word of mouth
    that's all it is!
    mind you "tits and ass" sell things
    even books!

  4. Roses - I've just read a bit of Cassandra Parkin's review. It's very funny. The excerpts I've seen don't have me chafing at the bit either, more like reaching for the sick bag.

    Bijoux - One reviewer said all the sex references were very coy, vague fumblings inside zips....

    John - Word of mouth is amazingly effective. It can kill something stone dead just as quickly.

  5. I like the review you linked too. the book sounds truly dreadful

  6. I read a review with excerpts - it sounds simultaneously inane and regressive. No thanks.

  7. Myra - I will not succumb to curiosity. I will not succumb to curiosity. I will not....

    Agent - Inane sounds about right. But inane goes down a treat with some individuals. In fact I like a bit of inane myself. No no, I will not succumb....

  8. you probably should read it just so you can be impressed by the quality of your own internal porn!

  9. I cheerfully admit I come from a sheltered background and am happy to stay there. :)

  10. Kylie - Good thinking (heads for Amazon)

    Monk - And why not? Some of us are a bit too knowledgeable for our own good....

  11. Oh, you never know, Nick. You might learn something new :D

  12. I have better books to read. Thank you.

  13. Jenny - Ooh, you cheeky monkey! You could be right of course (heads back to Amazon)

    Ramana - I'm sure you have. You're always coming up with interesting new insights from something you've been reading....

  14. Well? Did you succumb to the curiosity?

  15. Roses - Er, not yet. I'm too busy painting my nails....

  16. Call me weird but anything involving tying up and beating/?? others does absolutely nothing for me.

    I've read most of the hoopla and reviews surrounding this trilogy and have no urge to read it. At all. Even under brown paper wrapper or kobo.

    Teel you what Nick - you read it and do a review.

    meanwhile I'll keep writing erotica. Note I didn't say porn.

    I'm a snob.


  17. www - Me neither, but there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio....

    After all the blistering reviews I've seen, I don't think I could bring myself to touch it. It sounds like the writing style alone would send my blood pressure through the roof.

  18. It's apparently awful, and there are some very funny parodies on twitter. I think www is on to something, Nick. You'd be providing a public service...

  19. Speccy - A public service? Would I get a grant from the government? A knighthood? A peerage?

  20. I'm afraid I've succumbed to curiosity. I want to know if it's really as awful as people say. Trust me, if it is, I will be suitably appalled.

    So many of my friends were reading it and commenting that I couldn't resist finding out what all the fuss was about. The trouble is that for an erotic novel to work, you have to have genuine, properly drawn characters and a decent plot.

    Anne Rice doesn't write well and her books do nothing for me. J R Ward, however, is another story, if you'll forgive the pun!

  21. Jay - Oh, do tell us what your verdict is. Is it totally dreadful or does it have any redeeming features?

  22. Grannymar - I didn't think it would be somehow.

  23. I did wonder what they were about. in fact I thought it was a film. I don't think I'll be reading them. I ask myself, would Winnie the Pooh read them? And if the answer's no then I probably won't. (I just made that up but it might be a good criterion on which to base book choice. or life choice indeed.)

  24. Liz - What a wonderful criterion for your reading matter. Though I suspect Winnie the Pooh would only read books about honey and how to obtain it.