The stink of envy hangs around a lot of what’s being written and said about E.L James’s blockbuster.
Take this on twitter: ‘Write a fanfic based on an already bad book and then change the names. #badwritingtips’ I have to admit I thought that was funny. But it’s mean too.
If it’s a crime to find a market and sell to it, then please, how can I get arrested? Aren’t we all supposed to be trying to do that in this book trade?
I haven’t read the books and don’t own them. Romance is not a genre I enjoy and there’s a teetering pile of books I do want to read gathering dust on my desk.
I have heard the criticisms; that it’s poorly written and that the sex is reactionary.
I say, so what? Whether the critics are right or wrong, E.L James wouldn’t be the first to be guilty on either count. I think a lot of writers who haven’t found a market and a lot of publishers who are struggling to keep pace with theirs, are simply chagrined.
The books could be a symptom of cultural decline, as has been suggested. (How do you even qualify to be a judge of that? I’m definitely not going to try.) They are definitely a significant exemplar of the revolution in self and e-publishing. But none of that is the interesting stuff. Or not the really interesting stuff.
To my mind, E.L James has given us a great gift. She’s made us look at ourselves and see something good, something maybe quite new.
No, I’m not about to suggest that she’s somehow given us permission to talk about sex. It’s more that we’ve realised that we do talk about sex in an adult way. It’s a ‘wow, see where we are’ moment. It fits in with Caitlin Moran’s recently-published How to be a Woman, a witty and frank feminist polemic, which every woman must read. (Moran has tweeted that even though she ‘wouldn’t’ wank to it, she’s politically supportive of the Fifty Shades, whatever that means.)
I wonder if Fifty Shades is quite such a phenomenon in continental Europe. We English-speaking North Atlantacists have historically had a rather puerile attitude to sex (think Benny Hill, all the Carry On films and Victorian skirts for chair legs) that is considered rather bewildering on mainland Europe. Could E.L James be the mirror in which we finally see we’ve grown out of bumbum willywilly teeheehee? Or at least realised it’s not the only way to talk about a drive that everyone shares.
What I love about Fifty Shades is going to the hairdresser’s and talking about sex with my stylist.
Snip, snip, snip. ‘You’ve got to read it. Can you just tilt forward for me a bit?’
‘You’ve got to read them all though. You won’t know what to do with yourself after the first. Head up a bit. Lovely.’
‘Yes, you’ve got to have all three, to, you know get … I’ll tell you whose loved me reading them … my husband.’ Snip, snip, snip.
Currently, her favourite sport, she added, is watching other women reading it on the train. She can tell where they’re up to by the look on their faces.
It doesn’t appear to be a phenomenon restricted to any particular class. A group of my neighbours, all well-to-do women in their fifties, who could fairly be described as small ‘c’ conservative, recently had a nice cup of coffee and a long chat about the book, during which they unblushingly surveyed many sexual practices including sadomasochism, vibrators and rimming. The books were the talk of a recent, glamorous high society party.
I love this. This is water-cooler words. This is publishing as a social event. This is books changing the world. Okay, maybe not the last one. But it’s books creating an energy about something that matters, something beyond the latest Farrow and Ball colour card, or what Kate Middleton had for supper last night or anything to do with status and display, those twin hangovers from our tribal ancestors which in my experience don’t make anyone very happy.
I don’t always, or only, want to talk about the fundamentals, about sex, death, love. But being able to talk frankly about these things sometimes is a way of connecting that I really value. It diminishes the pile of dark and lonely in the world, and lets in a bit more of that reassuring light.
Thanks E.L James. I think you’re amazing. I’d love to be able to do what you’ve done. Yeah, I’m rocking that Eeau d’Envie, definitely, in my own personal Fifty Shades of Green.