50 Shades of Mahem, by EL James

Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1)Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The blurb on the back says this book is “romantic, liberating and totally addictive”. Personally I found it to be none of these things, being rather more affronted than turned on by the prospect of being questioned about my gag reflex. I also don’t think that having your tampon removed by someone else so that… (fill in the details yourself) qualifies as “liberating”. But if finishing the book in record time so you can be done with it counts as addictive, then okay, I’ll guess I’ll have to give it that. If it were up to me though, I’d probably have filed this book under genre:comedy.

Here you go, see for yourself:

“His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel … or something”

what is this, sex by drive-thru?

“My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves”

over and over again Anastasia’s inner goddess does stupid and really annoying things, including jumping around with pompoms after having an orgasm, crying when someone snatches her metaphorical icecream, figuratively pulling the fingers, tapping her feet, hiding behind the couch, pouting and so on.

“I feel the colour in my cheeks rising again, I must be the colour of the communist manifesto”

I know it can be hard to find the precise analogy sometimes, but really? I say blush and you say “communist manifesto”??

“That’s very profligate of you” and also “you beguile me Christian”proof that a thesaurus in the hands of the wrong person can be a dangerous weapon.

It seems that in disdaining this book I’m in good company – Goodreads reviewers have slammed “Fifty Shades of Grey” with an eloquence the book itself could never muster. Meanwhile, comedians all over the world are clipping the ticket, the stand-up circuit has never looked brighter. And I bet the marketers of Energizer batteries are kicking themselves for letting Amazon beat them to this: (go on, click on it, it’s worth it and it’s relevant to this review).

Indeed, as EL James and the machinery behind her rallies to unveil an exclusive line of sex toys, and while the fans stay up late on the forums debating who should be cast as Christian in the film, there’s no other way to look at it: Fifty Shades of Mahem reigns supreme. But enough, this review is a serious one (really, it is).

Here’s the cliche-ridden plot: a 21 year old virgin is seduced by a tall, dark, mysterious, philanthropic millionaire who flies a helicopter on dates, and likes to impress his new lover with surprise upgrades to first class and gifts from Apple’s top shelf. Of course Anastasia hates this, because money can’t buy me lo-oove. Then there’s the dark secret of Christian’s BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, Masochism) lifestyle which Anastasia believes that Christian needs to be “cured of”; a fact which has the BDSM community out there peeved (here and here). It feeds all the negative, not to mention false, stereotypes about normal people who enjoy a healthy, albeit alternative, sex life.

Together with the clumsy analogies and badly constructed sentences that invariably start or end with “Oh My..!”, the cliches only add to the overall hilarity of the book. But I’m certainly not a hater – each to their own. I get where the advocates for victims of domestic violence are coming from, but censorship is a slippery slope and they do more to harm their cause than aid it by holding mass book-burning demonstrations, which everyone knows only goes to elevate a book’s status. Go on! Give that book you hate so much some more publicity why don’t you! (oh, and whatever you do, don’t read American Psycho because that’ll really give you something to protest about).

The people at Unity Book Shop in Wellington, one of the few independents left in our capital city, is pragmatic – as you’d expect any bookseller hoping to weather out the recession would be. “It’s bringing people inside, they’re reading – who are we to judge what they enjoy?” a staff member told me recently. “And they want to know what to read next”, she said, pointing to the large empty space where Anais Nin’s novels usually reside. Thanks to Fifty Shades, Anais Nin is hotter than she was almost a century ago. Take that, literary snobs.

And while I’m getting all philosophical, I have to say that I don’t understand the women who ridicule other women for enjoying this book; nor men who make fun of women who’ve essentially been caught with their hand in the proverbial cookie jar (refer aforementioned Amazon commercial). Yes! Women enjoy sex! Who knew? Why does everything about women’s sexuality either have to be concealed, or turned into a joke? Then again, humour has the ability to break down barriers in ways that no amount of intellectual debate can.

So one star for Fifty Shades, two stars for EL James. For whether you like it or not, give a damn or don’t, she’s done her bit to normalise female sexual arousal, however offensive or hilarious you might find her contribution to that end. Now, when you walk into a bookstore you might find the erotica section right out front instead of hidden down the back between “The Collins Book of Chess Tips” and “Embroidery: The Lost Art”. Because it appears that the revelation – that literature (used loosely in this context) can be arousing – seems to have reached the mainstream and there isn’t anything wrong with that.

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4 thoughts on “50 Shades of Mahem, by EL James

  1. Pingback: | 5inabus

    • It nothing else, I’ve enjoyed reading all the wonderful, intelligent, sometimes very humorous reviews of it, as well as the book spin-offs out there..( there’s a 50 shades for men and their sheds I’ve seen somewhere).

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