Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Count 'Em!

Contrary to what the rumour mill may have implied, I was not pining for the fjords for the past month or so.

Also contrary to some misinformation artists out there, I have not been struck dumb by the greatness of the latest chick lit marvel, Fifty Shades of Grey.

Yes, I have read the first instalment of the trilogy. Yes, I was totally struck by it.

No, it was most definitely not because there was anything particularly good in it to write home about.

Still I thought it worthwhile - after taking some time out to recover from the shock - to write a few words about it here. For one, this is not "home" (no, really not). And then, I thought, maybe a few poor souls will actually stop by, read it, and save themselves time, money, and peace of mind.

So, what's so bad about this book, despite the fact it seems to be selling better than hot cakes? Well, I'm sure I could (over)stretch the pun and try and count fifty ways - but I won't. That'd be really mean. I mean, it's not really bad in fifty ways. In reality, it's more like forty nine. And it did (almost) make me shed 96 tears.

Without further ado, there's a shortlist of crimes against literature committed in Fifty Shades of Grey:

It's childish beyond words.
I mean, using "there" as a euphemism for female genitals? Who in their right mind ever uses that? Yes, it was necessary to provide a crutch for readers suspension of disbelief for the fact that in 21st century America (yes, even US of A did reach this century - despite religious right attempts) there exists a virgin female graduate who, on top of that, is so technologically (she does not even own a computer!) and experientially innocent that an average mid fifties counterpart would look positively libertine next to her. But even if all this were true - and necessary - surely there were better alternatives? Surely? Being of a male persuasion, I can't really offer an alternative (or three) which are more common and/or more sensible (especially in a literary sense), but I am sure-sure a good few exist. So, unless you're a very, very naive male - or a very, very rare specimen of a 21st century female - your suspension of disbelief for this book probably unsuspended itself at the first mention of "there", where "there" was used to describe a vagina.

It's probably plagiarising some important bits.
I had better things to do with my life than conduct a proper deep search to make sure, but all of the contract between our little innocent girl and Mr Grey sounds dangerously similar to what you may find (for free!) on the Internet if you are researching BDSM and are looking for sample contracts between a sumbissive and a Dominant. I must wonder if the author changed the book version sufficiently or at least offered to reimburse whoever came up with what she based her version on. Even if the book contract is entirely original (and if it is, I do apologise to E. L. James) it seems to unnecessarily go on and on where a more punchy, maybe slightly abridged, version could have done just as well - if not better.

It lacks any depth whatsoever.
If you're looking for a plot - look elsewhere. There is no plot as it is normally understood in quality fiction. The book unravels in an amazingly linear fashion that it more resembles a poor porn story (and a "stroke" one at that - not linking to a definition, do your own research here). On top of that, the venerable Mr Grey, is so perfect and so rich and so name-your-sickly-sweet-chick-lit-attribute that at times the book reads like a Cosmo readers' wet dream wish list. I mean, the guy is unreal. He's Gordon Gekko-marries-John Grey (and takes his surname) on steroids! By the way, isn't it a nice coincidence that the 9½ Weeks male lead shares the surname with the Fifty Shades of Grey one?

It's shamelessly written so you have to read all three parts.
This is not unlike another recent hit I found less than impressing (to be extremely polite about the stupid Hunger Games). What exactly happens in book one of the Fifty Shades? Well, girl meets boy, boy seduces girl, ... and not much more, really. At the last word of the pamphlet (it is probably an insult to pamphlets, this comparison, but hey - and I also find that in English, something being a pamphlet is not necessarily insulting) we are left hanging. Nothing even remotely resembling a resolution of the story so far exists. It is OK to leave hints at more to come, but to be so mean and shortchange your reader to such an extent that almost no pleasure can be derived by reading just the first part is criminal. But then, E. L. James (or Erika Leonard, apparently) has obviously learned from the masters. Another of my favourite authors (not), J. K. Rowling, did exactly the same in her children's franchise, so I guess that's alright then. At least E. L. James did not aim to exploit children.

OK. I think that's enough for what I aimed to be a short blog post. Or maybe not? Surely you must wonder if there are any redeeming features of the Fifty Shades? Well, maybe. Let's see if I can come up with one...

This book is for you if:
  • you secretly want to masturbate to something, but are too uptight to try a proper porn film or a story - even if both genres are freely available on the Internet (and for free, to boot); you are as uptight as above, but want to be seen as being capable of reading something that (just) might be considered;
  • you are a (pre)teen, and so sheltered that you too address your vagina as "there";
  • you (think you) have literary ambitions  and want to learn how to make a quick buck by prettyfying a BDSM porn novel and exploiting the above mentioned uptight brigade;
  • you have managed to get a free copy, and have been asked to read it and comment on it (guess which one applies to your truly).
If you decide this book is not for you:
  • because you read it and were disgusted by the perversions of modern society, go (re)read The Little Red Riding Hood - it is totally acceptable by even the most conservative people while at the same time being, in fact, as gory as they come, and with thinly veiled sexual overtones and undercurrents, too;
  • because you read it and wanted something stronger, go search the internet for free porn content - I can promise some of the free stories you can find are better, and better written, than Fifty Shades, plus, you may also find visuals to be more rewarding; 
  • because you read this and were disgusted by my negativity, go read the book then come back hear and re-read this post; 
  • because you read this and wanted something stronger, do as suggested two bullet points above - unless you were after a stronger review in which case... do your own research... then come back and re-read this post.
There. I think that now covers it all.

Oh. One more thing...

If you are really, truly interested in BDSM and want a good introductory text, the Story of O is hard to beat. And don't just take my word for it:

'A rare thing, a pornographic book well written and without a trace of obscenity'