Culture

Fifty Shades of Obscenity?

Jess Rayner tries to make sense of the mummy-porn phenomenon.

This summer it is safe to say that Fifty Shades of Grey has been the name on everyone’s lips, providing a catalyst for constant debate whether you have read it or not.

Many have refused to succumb to the hype refraining from reading E.L James’s erotic novel as a matter of principle. For those who have they have experienced a sexual epiphany or simply found it disgusting. When it comes to literature I always try to keep an open mind so despite hearing the criticism, my curiosity to see what the fuss was about took hold and I decided to take the plunge into James’s sadomasochistic fantasy.

Although I wasn’t expecting literary genius, after reading the first few chapters I found myself agreeing with critics who have emphasised the underdeveloped characterisation and weak plot, held in place only by the interspersing of explicit sexual scenes.  I have nothing against novels that champion readability over critical merit, as there are times when I love nothing more than sitting back and becoming engrossed in the latest romance or thriller. However, James’s narrative is lazy, with whole sections comprising merely of printed emails and contracts, ultimately lacking stylistic skill and finesse. Although it has been nicknamed ‘mummy porn’ I find the narrative surrounding the sexual scenes reads like a poorly constructed teen novel despite the clearly adult content. Which left me with one question: what is the appeal of Fifty Shades of Grey that has given it such huge popularity?

After discussing with friends that have also read James’s novel, along with reading countless articles that debate this very question I found that most people have been captivated by James’s frankness. Those who support the novel argue that the openness that James uses to deal with sex embodies a new embracement of female sexuality. This treatment of sexuality has opened up a new sense of freedom for women to discuss what has always been a taboo subject.

From this perspective I can see why so many people have been captivated by the book, James offers something different that people can easily read – yes it is not the best written book but, for a trashy holiday novel, it is ideal. So once I got over my frustration at the lack of literary skill, and although I won’t be rushing away to read the sequel, I hate to say I actually quite enjoyed this no frills, uncomplicated read. If you are looking for something different that you can easily pick up without much concentration needed James’s novel is perfect. But be warned her descriptions that leave nothing to the imagination will definitely have you blushing fifty shades of scarlet.

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