There was an interesting observation in the news today about 50 shades of grey: it’s the most left behind book in Travelodge! Among other ‘popular’ books of the times.
That’s fascinating, yet explainable for two reasons: it’s disappointing and it’s also cheap to buy if you’re feeling bored, sad or lonely. The book equivalent of junk food in airports: those calories don’t count. If no one can see you, they’re not real.
WHSmith sold them as 3 for 2 or something among the lines of £10 for all, or individually priced at not much more than Vogue and the daily paper. And given all the hype, it’s easy to see why you’d want to pick it up to settle it once and for all: what gets people so excited by it?
I found out, or at least what I reckon is the closest to the real answer. It’s not that women want to be dominated, it’s not that they don’t watch enough porn and this was the first time they set their eyes upon it. It’s not that Mr Grey absolutely worships the lady, places her on a pedestal and then marries her, because we all want to be property in secret. The plot isn’t even new. More established authors of the sexy genre have called it crap – and given they’ve already made their fortunes and TV appearances, I hardly think it’s envy.
It is indeed poorly written, which is insulting to most people who dedicate time to their craft and construct better words and phrases than ‘Oh my god, oh my god’ or ‘my inner goddess is doing the salsa with a twist of merengue’. But even China Mieville said in his ‘Future of the novel‘ bit from Edinburgh Festival:
We piss and moan about the terrible quality of self-published books, as if slews of god-awful crap weren’t professionally expensively published every year.
And yes, thanks to the internet, something will pop up and sell like hotcakes. He goes on, ‘how wonderful that will be’ -although he talks about people improving on existing work, and I don’t quite think this is a qualitative improvement; it’s just an improvement on that ineffable ‘what people get out of a novel’.
So back to the crap writing – it reads like an uncensored stream of thoughts. What some people might refrain from posting to twitter (“I like the smell of the varnish on that table”) is integral to the book. We know she likes driving a Mercedes CLK, not an old VW Beetle. She likes the marble reception area in big corporate offices. Her favourite tea is Twinings English Breakfast. She drinks Bollinger with Mr Grey. It’s pretty much like what magazines say women think about during sex: armpits, sex, cleaning mould, courgettes – do I have milk at home?
In fact, oddly enough, it’s full of brands and (the author’s) lusting after brands (the lady in the book is given an Apple laptop just so she could google ‘submissive’). All of that is fine, product placement in books isn’t new. But I was told most of my working life that people don’t ‘like’ or ‘love’ brands.
Maybe they don’t, not most of them – but they certainly do love reading about them in context.