Fifty Shades of Grey
By E L James
Reviewer: Janet M O’Brien
What motivates 100 million readers around the globe to read three installments of an erotic novel that received negative reviews with literary critics giving the style ‘no prizes’ for its prose? It has even been described as ‘poorly written’? But let’s face it; romance sells. Add explicit sexual acts that involve bondage, dominance and submission and we have a formula that traps readers as they are enticed vicariously and seduced. Once the reader is bonded (pun intended) to this intimate interplay, seduction is complete.
Through the ages female sexuality has been the subject of fascination for many male writers. Fanny Hill, Moll Flanders, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and the exploits of the notorious Molly Bloom, were all written by men. In more recent years, Anais Nin, Erica John, Linda Jaivin and Nicky Gemmell have evened the score to some degree and now E L James has blown away any traces of male dominance.
Times and women have changed. A recent national survey of Australian women has shown that there is a sexual revolution taking place and that women are very much to the fore when it comes to being adventurous as far as sex is concerned. This cultural shift has led to the burgeoning of erotic romance novels and chick-lit. The survey found that women of all ages now have a more liberal attitude to sex than any group surveyed including men of all ages and teenagers.
This trilogy is a page turner, 1624 pages to be precise; the reader is seduced from the outset with the prolonged sexual sequences. In particular, millions of women are enjoying the uninhibited sexual content. Every sex scene is fresh, explicit and varied. No two scenes read the same. Even so, at times, I skimmed some of the sex scenes to return to the development of the characters and the progress of the relationship.
Anastasia Steele, the narrator, is a young graduate who is introduced to the enigmatic and intimidating Christian Grey when she is persuaded by her friend to interview him for a student newspaper. Grey subsequently pursues Ana and introduces her to his vast wealth and power and the terms he imposes on women that are prepared to be his “submissive”. It turns out that Grey has very explicit sexual tastes and is not “a hearts and flowers kind of guy”. And he wants control over every aspect of her life. A complex relationship ensues as Ana considers his list of contractual requirements once she’s been introduced to his ‘play room’. Even though she is shocked, she finds him irresistible and wants to get close to him. So she is willing to expose herself to the extremes of his sexual needs.
Ana is no submissive. Her relationship is one that demands equal power. She yearns for romance in the traditional sense and the challenge for Grey is whether he can let go of his demons; the origins of his inability to love. In turn, he too is seduced by Ana’s independent spirit and quiet intelligence.
This is no Cinderella story, but a narrative of male/female relationships that fits the modern era. Grey seduces Ana, Ana seduces Grey and the author has seduced millions of readers with sales that far surpass novels such as “Justine” and “The Story of O” which so shocked previous generations. With “Fifty Shades of Grey” that goes to “ Fifty Shades Darker” before emerging as “ Fifty Shades Freed” E L James explores the pleasures and pains of romantic love while recognizing that sexuality is the most powerful driving force in human experience.