Fifty Shades of Breath-Hitching Hilarity

Fifty Shades of GreyIt’s hard (no pun intended—and none intended for the ones that also appear later in this blog because the more you try to avoid euphemisms and innuendo, the more doggedly they appear) to know what to write about a book that everyone’s surreptitiously reading and talking and writing about. What more can I possibly add to the furtive-meets-open-mocking discussion?

I suppose I can add that while the writing’s at times either/or inadvertently hilarious and annoying, there’s a reason why EL JamesFifty Shades of Grey is a runaway success. Scoff how you will, just like the vampire–human love story that inspired its penning, Fifty Shades is, essentially, a rip-roaringly addictive, right-spot-hitting story.

To recap (in case you’ve been doing something enviably exotic and removed from the interwebs and popular culture such as setting world records scaling snow-capped mountains with a pet goat perched upon your shoulders), the book embarks on an epic love story between a nerdy, literature-studying girl and an all-knowing, all-controlling, self-made billionaire broken and made mysterious by his damaged past.

It began as self-published Twilight fan fiction and spread, courtesy of interwebs-based word of mouth, like publishing wildfire. The rest is history that publishers are now, by commissioning and rushing through anything remotely similar in style, desperately trying to repeat. That includes the distinctive (dare I say iconic?) covers that, as with the Twilight series before them, will spawn many, many recreation attempts.

Fifty Shades DarkerNot being a big erotica reader—one might say I was put off some years ago as a bookseller by a certain dodgy customer who regularly returned erotic fiction, and who once did so with a bookmark that infamously turned out to be a long, curly, grey pube—I was surprised that Fifty Shades took a long time to get to the sexy bits. Seriously, there are many, many, many chaste chapters of suspense before Christian and Ana get it on, which may disappoint those who expect bodice-ripping from the outset.

That’s not to say there’s not a lot to follow, and I’ll not deny that there came a point in the third book (page 117, to be precise) where I thought: I’m not sure I can read any more sex scenes. Please, give me some more plot. But as S&M goes (or so I’m told), despite its promises the book’s sex is relatively middle-class vanilla.

But there’s also plenty personality-wise to interest, not least the plot-driving email exchanges between Ana and Christian, which were at times so witty I was I’d-never-think-to-write-that envious. They’re an interesting couple and the narrative gripping enough to make you want to know where it goes.

I’ll not deny, though, that wanting to see the story unfold precludes one from poking fun at it and highlighting its Swiss-cheese-like plot holes relentlessly. Were I a drinker (which I’m in this case sadly not), I’d invent a drinking game for every time someone’s breath ‘hitched’ or Ana bit her lip.

Yes indeedy, the repetition of certain terms and phrases reinforced to me the need for editors (James was clearly given one by the time the second and third books, published with publishing house money, were released). Meanwhile the stalker-like behaviour and too-talented-by-halves nature of the Christian character leant itself to hours of teeheeing about how a real-life version would have you taking out an AVO faster than you could dial triple-o that masked slight I-wish-I-could-find-such-a-man wistfulness.

Fifty Shades FreedA small side note is that I got a little confused by the mix of ‘Grey’, ‘Steele’, and ‘gray’ throughout the book and couldn’t help but wonder if there was a reference in there James hadn’t been able to make explicit. I’ll also admit the third book made me angry.

While the first two had been two-dimensional and guffaw-worthy, the third was one-dimensional, too quickly turned to guff, and was an absolute cop out. I don’t want to give the plot away, but I couldn’t help thinking it was as lame and as inexplicably over-the-top as Bella and Edward’s relationship with the naming of Renesme.

No matter. I had committed to seeing the trilogy through by then and wasn’t entirely unsatisfied overall. And while I’ll happily poke fun at the books, I’ll also happily admit I’ve read them and that even if they’re not capital-l literature, if they’re getting people to read books and talk about books and reading, then they’re not so bad at all.

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.