Amazon were selling Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L James last weekend for only £2.10 so I thought I would download it and see what all the fuss was about. Half a dozen mentions in The Guardian and a Newsnight interview for the author must count as fuss by anyone's standards for a novel which apparently started life in the world of fan-fiction.
Subsequently indie-published it now covers the shelves at Tesco and with its sequels held the top three rankings on the Sunday Times bestseller list. One Guardian book writer called it "fairly dreadful" and another said it was "readable and often funny". I read it over a couple of days and found it to be easy reading, romance fiction: young woman with issues meets handsome, personable, rich man for on-off relationship, difficulties caused by misunderstandings and failure to communicate. It was written well enough although the attention to detail in practising safe sex in the context of the emerging sado-masochistic story-line was unintentionally funny. There is far more of the rather pedestrian plot than the hype leads you to expect. The commentators making such a fuss about the erotic aspect of the novel must have lead very sheltered literary sex-lives. There is a huge difference between writing a shopping-list of less usual sexual practices and incorporating descriptions of their undertaking into the body of the novel. Also the sado-masochistic, dominant - submissive aspects reminded me of "Beatrice" written anonymously in 1895. I only know that because when I was in the fourth form at school we passed round copies of several erotic novels wrapped in brown paper covers to match our French and Latin text books such as Beatrice, Fanny Hill and Forever Amber. I thought that Anastasia was quite a likeable character if somewhat mis-guided but Christian needed some much more endearing qualities than playing the piano well to make me want to read the second book. Overall a master-class in managing hype and taking advantage of all the opportunities of internet publishing.