On a cold winter’s night some 6 months ago, I spent a relaxing evening back home with my parents. As I reveled in the sumptious comforts of calorific cooking and a heating bill I don’t have to pay for (Mum always turns it up for me, despite Dad’s protests), conversation turned to my blog and my frustration that follower numbers had stagnated. We debated for some time how I could address this, until Mum suddenly put down her fork, looked me in the eye and announced with great finality, “There’s only one thing for it, Becky. Sex sells. Your blog needs more sex”. Unsurprisingly those were the last words on the topic that night, primarily because I was rendered utterly speechless and had to go and recover in the downstairs loo. Having subsequently spent most of the intervening 6 months trying to assimilate this comment with the individual delivering it (she’s my MUM, for God’s sake, I’m pretty sure she shouldn’t even know what sex is) I seem to be finally taking her advice, by writing a review of a novel that proves her theory beyond irrefutable doubt. So weird as this is to say – and even odder to type – Mum, this one is for you.
Unless you’ve been living on another planet for the last 10 years, you will know the basic premise of 50 Shades of Grey: innocent, virginal girl meets rich, controlling man who proceeds to introduce her to a world of kink beyond her wildest dreams. Our “hero” (I use the term loosely) is suave, sophisticated and supposedly oozes sexuality, although one too many references to “his customary white linen shirt and black jeans” was a bit too Simon Cowell for my liking (the visual equivalent of a cold shower if ever there was one). Ana is our bland and insipid “heroine” who, despite brief moments of spunk (snigger) is frustratingly submissive, and not just in the sexual sense – she capitulates to her best friend Kate almost as often as she yields to Christian’s mind control. In the frankest terms, this book is unlikely to win any feminism awards and is a spectacular example of how to fail the Bechdel test: at no point do these girls manage any sort of conversation without defaulting to the topic of men. By automatically defining themselves through their relationship with males, the story becomes stomach-churningly patriarchal.
Don’t get me wrong, I can of course see the appeal if you are excited by domination and have repressed those feelings in a society that vehemently judges any sexual activity outside the “norm”. No doubt Lady Chatterley’s Lover had same effect on publication back in the day. But truth is the author perpetuates the constant and cliched cycle of fear / arousal / submission so many times as the pages progress, it becomes surprisingly mundane really quite quickly. I genuinely found myself longing for a few pages without sex, pushed to my own brink (of boredom) by yet another instance of Ana’s breath hitching or her muscles clenching deep inside (yawn). Most disturbing of all, however, is the darker subtext at play in this relationship. Forget the bondage and spanking (Ana is a consenting adult despite her innocence), this is a textbook portrayal of emotional abuse and it pained me to see the protagonist ignore the warnings of friends and family. Somehow I don’t think I will be reaching for the other books in the trilogy.
As one of my most supportive followers, my Mum quite often asks to borrow the books I have reviewed so we can discuss them in greater detail. Whilst in the past we have debated the popularity of this tome (laughing at Dad for thinking it was called 57 Shades of Grey – he worked for Heinz and obviously thinks there is nothing sexier than baked beans) I don’t think I could cope with her reading this one. So, whilst this blog is dedicated to her undeniable wisdom, I’m just going to have to insist she doesn’t go anywhere near the actual book. Not yet, anyway. Maybe when she is a little bit older. We will see.