Erotica for the masses

This raunchy read has everyone talking, but Nicky Pellegrino is underwhelmed.

If you haven't heard of Fifty Shades Of Grey by E.L. James (Arrow, $19.99), then let me give you the plot in a nutshell - it's Twilight with kinky sex instead of blood-sucking vampires. The first in an "adult romance" trilogy by a London mum-of-two, this is the publishing sensation of the year, the book everyone is talking about.

I admire James' smarts in creating this fan-fiction phenomenon. Clearly she realised two things - one was how the rise in e-books has made erotica more accessible to women because you can download it without anyone knowing what you're reading. She also sussed that what many women love about the Twilight trilogy is, not the vampires, but the notion of a super-rich, hot, protective man who'll take care of everything.

And so she created wealthy young tycoon Christian Grey, who meets lovely but clumsy student Anastasia Steele when she interviews him for her college newspaper. There's a spark between them but Christian, just like Twilight's Edward Cullen, is a man of dark and hidden dangers. His mansion contains a love dungeon equipped with whips, chains and shackles. And rather than a new girlfriend, he's looking for a submissive.

Christian's pursuit of Anastasia is punctuated at regular intervals by sex scenes - mildly kinky, mostly unrealistic, pages and pages of them.

Eroticism is highly subjective. What makes me all fluttery may not work for you. The sex scenes in Fifty Shades Of Grey left me pretty much cold. Towards the end I had to resist the urge to speed-read them.

For me, there's none of the subtlety of erotica pioneer Anais Nin's work, nor even the simmering sexual tension of Twilight.

I reckon Fifty Shades Of Grey is erotica-lite. James is prissy enough to need to make excuses for Christian's predilections. He is damaged by a childhood trauma, too messed up for a proper loving relationship and S&M fills the void in his life.

The story is also as anti-feminist as anything I've read. Are women really yearning for domineering men so attentive it borders on stalking, who crop up every time they go out for a drink and try to dictate what they eat and wear? If so I find it vastly depressing. Were I the mother of a 16-year-old girl it is this, rather than the raunchiness, which would make me reluctant to have her read it.

James has admitted she doesn't think she's a great writer. Though this is most definitely true, she's not a bad storyteller - it's an achievement in itself to keep a reader going through more than 500 pages during which nothing much happens but multiple simultaneous orgasms - and at times I did smile at the outbreaks of humour.

I won't be reading the follow ups, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed. But I am intrigued by the whole "Mommy porn" trend. And I do wonder ... if Twilight gave birth to Fifty Shades, what on earth will Fifty Shades lead on to?

- Herald on Sunday

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