Fifty Shades of Nonsense and why I love E.L James (with adult content)

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.

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Posted in feminism, women, Writing, writing novels
14 comments on “Fifty Shades of Nonsense and why I love E.L James (with adult content)
  1. tashf1973 says:

    Well said… and I do have a copy if you wanted it!


  2. Justin Bog says:

    Really, Cathy, I quite agree with you. The talk about the books divides people. Even those who fear to read them for whatever reason. That’s good in my book.

  3. zencherry says:

    Haven’t read it and am glad for their success. If I wish otherwise, wouldn’t I be putting the evil eye right back at me?

    I have to say though: bumbum willywilly teeheehee made me about pee my pants. I love the descriptive way you go about writing hon. FANTASTIC.

    • Cathy Dreyer says:

      Yes that’s a good point. I struggle with this because I do think it’s important to make critical judgements, but I suppose I just don’t think it’s the point with 50 SoG. Doesn’t everyone say bumbum willywilly teeheehee? That’s the problem about the Brits and possibly you lot over there too, the puerile humour makes me, and everyone else I like, laugh so much. Cathyx

      • zencherry says:

        No, I’m too dignified for that. (Looks for lightning to strike and takes a giant step sideways just to be safe) 😉 Actually, I sit in the snicker-seat section myself. You can’t say Mr. Dick Johnson to me without irrepressible giggles following for example. Poor Dick. 😀

  4. I’m just glad she has a photo on her website… otherwise I might be tempted to paraphrase Blackadder: “What? E.L. James is a man?” “Of course – a huge Yorkshireman with a beard like a rhododendron bush.”

  5. I have all 3 books, but I haven’t read them yet. It’s been fascinating hearing all the different views, but I’ve never been the type to let others influence me. I WILL get around to reading them, at some stage 😉


  6. Aaargh, I’ve read the first one and thought it was awful. Just shoddy. And I don’t even know if I’d agree that it’s got everyone discussing sex in an adult way. I still see some ‘titter titter’ attitude to it in and around Twitter, within my group of friends etc. Someone I know fairly well read it and then decided to have an affair, as her husband was not quite the Mr Grey she now wanted. I have no idea if she’ll be successful in that endeavour, as I’m fairly sure men exactly like Mr Grey don’t exist. Oh bugger, Moo’s awake, I’ve got to dash. Would love to discuss this further, in person maybe? It’s a subject we could chew on for a while 🙂 X

    • Cathy Dreyer says:

      Hah! Another good reason not to read it. I don’t know Fran, I am just enjoying things like our respected Times’ columnist, Caitlin Moran, tweeting, ‘I wouldn’t wank to it.’ I mean, 493 years ago when I was a child, this was unimaginable.

      Nor is it that I’m averse to a bit of bumbum willywill teeheehee myself as my long-suffering friends and family will tell you (loudly and peevishly imho).

      As to your mate who’s having a bit on the side, can we really blame E.L? Or, wait, maybe, you don’t think – ? She’s not Gilderoy Whatnot from Harry Potter, is she? She’s not – magic? She hasn’t cast a sex hex on her readers, condemning them to talking about ‘thexth’ and ‘thexth partth’ for ALL ETERNINTY???? [Insert pic of Munch’s Scream here]

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