So, “Fifty Shades of Grey”. BDSM-themed fiction, currently a the top of the mainstream fiction chart… Hands up who’s read it? I finished it late last night, determined to reach the end, and I thought I’d share my views.
It really is wonderful to realise that so many people are encountering a taste of our world through E L James’s work. It’s great to see some crossover – to be able to read such naughtiness unashamedly on a train or in a coffee shop, for example. And (trying hard to avoid spoilers here) there’s much to commend the book: some sections that are very hot indeed, some great epistolary exchanges. It’d argue that it’s a must-read novel for people like us.
Of course, the premise is far-fetched – young, fabulously-wealthy businessman falls for virginal student when she interviews him for her University newspaper – but this is fantasy, right? Yes, it’s perhaps a little long and a tad repetitive at times, but I can live with that. It can feel a little clinical – the ever-so-careful mention of him putting on a condom each time before they have sex, for example. There’s little real empathy with kink – the descriptions of his play room feel like the sort of thing a slightly-freaked-out vanilla would write if they’d been taking notes on a guided tour during a field trip; would an experienced top / dom really complain that his hand was “very sore” after administering a short spanking?
More concerning than that, though, is the motivation of the two characters. Ana’s rationale for her kinky experimentation is purely to please Christian; it’s really not her thing. He’s only into BDSM because he’s damaged by a relationship he had as a teenager with an older married woman. When he “hits” her, it’s because he wants to; she tolerates him doing so because she wants to please him; she wishes fervently that he was “like her” instead.
Oh for a book in which the young woman explores kink because that’s what she enjoys; for a top who’s not into it as a means of processing past bad experiences. Yet again – rather as was the case, to an extent, with ‘Secretary’ – the outside world gets a glimpse of our interests, finds it fascinating, yet is left feeling that kink is fundamentally unhealthy. And that saddens me. Yet if it does inspire some readers to understand and explore their previously-kept-secret interests, then the book is fundamentally A Good Thing. I just wish I could say so wholeheartedly, without reservation.