“Have you read EL James' "Fifty Shades of Grey"? I am on chapter 3 and no sex yet! I am disappointed with EL's book -- not just because of the prevaricating about sex -- but I am disappointed for all the wonderful erotica writers out there, who do it so much better!”
This was my comment on Facebook, mid-May -- I was trying to gather up a response for this blog post, regarding “The Fifty Shades of Grey” phenomenon. It seems that within the intellectual press, there is a feeling of surprise that women love erotica.
“The women’s book club has a new romantic heroine. By day, Anastasia Steele is a college senior at a Vancouver University and a virgin who wears indifferent jeans and reads the usual novels (Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Pride and Prejudice). By night, she is the willing slave of Christian Grey, who trusses her up in his “red room of pain” and slaps her and makes her shiver with just the tip of his whip. You can tell by the characters’ names what general territory we are in: erotic fiction mixed with Harlequin and just a hint of legal brief (apparently bondage drama requires the exchange of elaborate documents and disclaimers).”
Book Club Erotica: Why do women love the new smutty novel “Fifty Shades of Grey”?
“Fifty Shades of Grey is the Kindle and Goodreads sensation that recently made the round of the morning talk shows and is apparently bewitching women from “the Upper East Side of Manhattan to the suburbs of Seattle,” says Today. Part of a “triple-X trilogy,” the book began as a Twilight fan-fiction story called “Master of the Universe” by someone who called herself “Snowqueens Icedragon” and has now revealed herself to be E.L. James, a TV executive, wife and mother of two in London.”
Hanna Rosin, writing in “Slate”
“James's success marks a change in the way erotica is viewed – and bought – by the public, say publishers, a shift in gear even following the success of noughties titles including the Belle de Jour books, and Girl with a One Track Mind. And they want a part of it.
"What is changing now is the audience, and I think that Fifty Shades of Grey, and the firestorm around it, has done that … Now it is OK to read erotica – in fact, it is cool," said author KD Grace, whose book Surrogates has just been launched by HarperCollins's new ebook erotica line Mischief Books. "Women almost had to be given permission to be open about it, to say, 'I read erotica and so what?', rather than reading in the closet.”
Alison Flood guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 25 April 2012
One commentator in response to Alison Flood’s piece wrote;
“Oh come on, it's not new or different for women to be reading saucy books. Lace, Lace II, Jilly Cooper... bonkbusters have happened before, and there are whole websites dedicated to satisfying women's liking for erotica in ebook form.
What's new is the press noticing it!”
Arifa Akbar explains how the digital revolution has made sex the hottest genre in literature. How e-readers took the embarrassment out of erotic fiction.
“We've read about the extraordinary success of Fifty Shades of Grey, her best selling, sadomasochistic romance that became an e-reading sensation, even if we haven't yet thumbed through its pages. The debut novel, which has a sexually graphic narrative following the passions of a virginal college student and her rich and powerful lover, began life as a viral word-of-mouth hit, selling more than 250,000 copies as a download before it had even been published as a conventional book. Its success is not unique, and points to a blossoming, red-blooded trend.
The e-reading phenomenon has led to a rise in the sales of erotic and romantic fiction that readers may previously have felt too inhibited to buy and read in public. Now, without the embarrassment of a dust-jacket, readers have begun to download such works in growing numbers.”
Oh, so it’s because of Amazon and the Kindle, that women love erotica! Women can read it in secret!
Not so, says Raelene Gorlinsky, publisher of erotica and erotica romance publisher at Ellora's Cave.
“BDSM has been around forever, but used to be "underground." With the sexual revolution, more and more aspects of sex became visible and open — and people were frequently astonished to find out how many others were like them, enjoyed things formerly kept hidden. BDSM in erotica fiction blossomed as very popular with erotic romance readers a dozen years ago.
“Why has the popularity risen, especially among female readers? Well, I think for the same reason BDSM as a sexual practice has been popular with men. It is a fantasy that allows you to let go of your responsibilities and let someone else take charge. Most BDSM stories focus on the person in the submissive role. In erotica, that's more frequently the woman. In reality, men are often the subs. The reader or the real-life participant is the person who has to make decisions all day, be in charge, be under pressure for results — and then can let go in a sexual situation and have someone else whose job it is to focus on them and be responsible for giving them sexual pleasure. Men had always had what was seen as the more responsible roles in society; in the last few decades women moved into the workforce and became responsible for everything — their job, their home, care of their family … So now some women have discovered they like being the sub in BDSM for the exact same reason some men do.”
I suggested to Laura Antiniou on Facebook, that EL James is said to have put erotica on the map. I could feel Laura bristling with indignation when she responded!
“She did no such thing. Every ten years or so, the mainstream media "discovers" that women read smut and declare one break-away book to be the placeholder for all erotica. This just happens to be the one for this decade. Ten years from now, they'll do it all again, conveniently ignoring the fact that erotica and erotic romance represent a monstrously huge portion of book sales, especially with the advent of e-books. The map was there already; what she (and her publicists) did was direct some new consumers to a marketplace that already had millions of 'em. Without the insulting tag of "mommy porn." Ten years from now, there will be another "discovery" that women like sexy stories, and those who remember the hullabaloo over this one will roll their eyes.”
Laura Antoniou on FB
“Presumably when Tesco starts selling handcuffs and ball gags, doubtless the media will 'discover' kinky sex (again). The only reason that the media regard any of this as 'new' is because they've not been paying attention and because 'erotica' is an even more despised genre than romantic fiction.”
A comment on Alison Flood’s piece in the Guardian.
But is Fifty Shades any good?
“There are plenty who do it better! But they don't get the word of mouth they should! Not sure why..” PM White on FB
“Yes, so much better stuff around. Gives the genre a bad name, I feel, and not even that sexy really, unless you've lived underground for decades. There's no understanding the great unwashed public…” Maxim Jacubowski on FB
“ With all the hype about this book, you'd expect it to be well written and full of sex. It's such a shame some of the authors who struggle and work so hard to hone their craft are ignored while crap is raved about.” Jude Mason on FB
One reviewer remarked; “I read the first chapter free on Amazon out of curiosity... the characterisation is lame, the dialogue is limp and the places are cardboard sets with no sense of place. The critical first scene between the couple is a laughable encounter. I can only assume that the erotic elements are better-written and the main reason for reading it.... these aren't available for preview.”
And another commentator; “What annoys me most is that I truly hadn’t read/heard any of the hype surrounding the book and bought it on the strength of the cover blurb which made it sound like a taught thriller about a sinister controlling relationship....now I find out that it is vanilla hetero soft porn and frankly the first few pages could have been written by a teenager so I don’t want to read the rest.....anyone want a copy going cheap...or I'll swap for a decent lesbian love story?”
Remittance Girl, writing in the Guardian. “I'm sorry that, when Random House chose to take a chance on an erotic novel, they decided we all had the reading level of 12-year olds. The novel is repetitive, adolescent in the extreme, and not a good representation of some of the magnificent writing out there within the genre.
The most we can hope for is that readers of Fifty Shades of Grey will finish it, feel the need for something with better writing and more meat, and go looking for it.”
Marion Miller, writing in the Guardian. “All this demonstrates is how low publishers have sunk in the chase for profit to feed their shareholders. Ooh look. A bandwagon. Let's jump on it. Let's produce piles of shit and peddle them to the public. Who cares if it is derivative, badly written, and will end up in the charity shops unread? Who cares that good writers are squeezed out by this idiotic chase? Who cares that publishers seem to be staffed by fools who place decision making in the hands of unpaid kids who wouldn't know decent writing if it pissed in their boots?”
Check out this paragraph, from Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. I think that it is a compelling, inspiring piece of writing. Bram Stoker drip, drip, drips a potent blend of sensuality directly into the vein. It is impossible to resist. And he does it all in one short, powerful paragraph -- more than EL James manages in 514 pages.
“I was afraid to raise my eyelids, but looked out and saw perfectly under the lashes. The girl went on her knees, and bent over me, simply gloating. There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal, till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth. Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed to fasten on my throat. Then she paused, and I could hear the churning sound of her tongue as it licked her teeth and lips, and I could feel the hot breath on my neck. Then the skin of my throat began to tingle as one's flesh does when the hand that is to tickle it approaches nearer, nearer. I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the super sensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there. I closed my eyes in languorous ecstasy and waited, waited with beating heart.”
In some parts of Fifty Shades, I am actually bored. The vapid description of orgasm, which goes on and on and on grows tedious. Orgasm after orgasm after ecstatic orgasm is boring. And as for the contract Ana has to read (we read through it with her) well, if it is meant to shock, if it’s intended to arouse, well it doesn’t, it really doesn’t; frankly, it’s dull. And dull; boring is surely the most cardinal sin a writer can commit?
And I must admit, I have been selective with the opinions expressed here. If you are still desperate to read stunning reviews of EL James’ book and how it has “empowered” women, just put the title into Google, you will be overwhelmed by gushingly positive comments, that tickle my gag reflex.
But who are these writers who do erotica so much better? Well, start with Vanessa Duries, “The Ties That Bind”. Now there is a real submissive, not just a silly girl play acting to keep a man. In Fifty Shades I tire of reading of just how gorgeous Christian Grey is and how Ana knows he is out of her league. His gorgeous sculptured lips. How gorgeous his hair looks when it is rumpled. Ana’s constant dialogue with her “inner goddess”, as to why such a gorgeous guy should be attracted to lil ole her, is nauseating. So is the silly adolescent dialogue with her subconscious; “holy hell, holy cow, holy fuck, holy crap etc. I can only assume the EL James is trying to convey her heroine’s innocence and total lack of sexual experience through this abysmal use of the English language.
Are there worse books than “Fifty Shades of Grey? Most certainly. Will I finish reading it? No -- I can’t face another evening of boredom, I have more entertaining things to do, like watching paint dry, picking my nose.
Read anything by P.M. White. And anything by M. Christian, Jude Mason, Janine Ashbless, Maxim Jacubowski, Remittance Girl. The romance publisher, Mills and Boon, has their fair share of superb writers of erotic fiction.
Go to Oatmeal Girl’s blog. She talks explicitly about her submission to “the Sadist”, without using a single superlative. Without a lurid description OG conveys the dark eroticism of their Dominant/submissive relationship in finely crafted, beautiful language.
Read everything published by Black Lace.
And written erotica is nothing new; “Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure” (popularly known as Fanny Hill) is an erotic novel by John Cleland first published in England in 1748.
One of the most prosecuted and banned books in history, it has become a synonym for obscenity.
And while Henry Fielding’s, “Tom Jones”, 1749 is described as a comic novel, it has its fair share of erotica too. Check out the “food eating” scene in Tony Richardson’s 1963 film of the same name.
Tom and his paramour “smoulder at one another while gulping back wine, slurping oysters, tearing at chicken legs and biting lasciviously into pears.
“ … the characters probed, fingered and sucked their food, they did so without laying a finger on each other. The moment they stop eating, however, the two run for a room…”
The Telegraph. 13th May 2012 in an obituary for Joyce Redman.
The scene was a violent erotic awakening for me -- I snuck into see it aged 14! In those days it had an X rated certificate. I was always where I wasn’t supposed to be; I always have found the dark side, the forbidden side, lusciously enticing.