How far would you go for the one you love? This is the fundamental question at the heart of EL James’ infamous novel, Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s a pertinent question, and one that’s been asked many times before in romantic fiction, from Wuthering Heights to anything by Jackie Collins. But never, perhaps, with this much hype.
The plot is a simple twist on the classic girl meets boy scenario; as a favour for her sick room-mate, self-conscious Anastasia Steele agrees to interview millionaire businessman Christian Grey for her college paper. Needless to say, it is lust at first sight and before long the couple are embroiled in a passionate affair. The twist is double-edged; Anastasia is a virgin and Grey is seriously into sadomasochism.
So, is Fifty Shades an explicit game-changer, or just cheap thrills chick lit? And more importantly, is it worth your time reading it? The book has certainly made an impression; it has been translated into 51 different languages, and over 100 million readers worldwide have followed the ups and downs of Anastasia and Mr Grey’s passionate affair. The sex scenes have undoubtedly attracted the most attention, but as erotic fiction goes they are actually pretty tame. What is more interesting is the power struggle between the couple; we see Anastasia change from a delicate wallflower, to an experimental young woman who is unafraid to make her feelings known. However, the extent to which she actually takes charge is seriously debatable, and indeed has been at the heart of much of the feminist criticism.
For me, one of the more frustrating moments in the book comes towards the end, when it becomes clear that the plot won’t get tied up neatly (excuse the pun). Instead you will have to get your hands on the sequels, quick. For Fifty Shades is definitely a page turner – a book you could easily finish in one or two sittings, thanks to its fast pace and accessible language. Don’t expect a work of great literary merit: if you’re looking for poetry you are missing the point. This is fast, racy, accessible fiction. If the 500 or so pages sounds a bit too much like hard work, you could always catch the film, starring Dakota Johnson and the dashing Jamie Dornan. Or even better, wait for it to come out on DVD and watch it in the comfort of your own home.
Fifty Shades of Grey has become such a phenomenon, you would have to be very principled indeed not to be a little curious. Regardless of your critique, you’ll never look at cable ties in the same way again.