Sex and literature go together like hand and glove. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is replete with sexual innuendoes. DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover detailed the adulterous relationship of Lady Chatterley and game keeper Oliver Mellors and one of Colette’s works highlighted the young hedonistic Chéri. BDSM is also nothing new in literature too. The most popular novel on BDSM that comes to mind is The Story of O by French author Pauline Réage (pseudonym of Anne Desclos).

Christian Grey’s story in Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James seems to be the heir apparent. That he’s dislodged Harry Potter as the most sellable fiction character piqued my interest but I didn’t pick up the book.  I still resisted the book even after reading on the Net that it caused a man to throw the book at his girlfriend, berating her for reading a “pornographic novel.” I caved in when a student happily danced the book in front of me after I blurted out, “You’re reading that book?”

“It’s mummy porn,” she quipped, her eyes sparkling with glee.

Fifty Shades of Grey is a formulaic mix of wealth, S&M disguised as love and bridled desire, sweeping someone off her feet in the tale of Christian Grey who loves to dominate and inflict pleasurable pain in his little Red Room of Pain. The characters are stereotypical – the young, powerful, affluent, drop-dead gorgeous, fashionable, calm and collected but depraved Christian Grey and the wide-eyed innocent young university graduate Anastasia Steele, who despite her strong name, is putty in the hands of the CEO of Grey Holdings.

The storyline is trite – two different worlds colliding in one innocuous meeting. Anastasia had agreed to do the interview of Grey for her flu-stricken best friend. Her klutziness and sporadic candidness attract Grey right at the beginning, tripping on her way in and he – her grey knight in armour – catching her before she fell flat on her face. The contrived meeting easily elides the nitty-gritty of life: social class, outlook and personality. That Anastasia was an interesting catch for his sex games was a plausible storyline – his affluent upbringing had impressed upon him that anyone and everyone had a price tag.  But for a woman to justify and balance depravity pulled back the advancement of women in reality and in literature to the dark days of oppression. Strong women characters have surfaced in narratives through the years and the Anastasia’s ambivalent character is as unpalatable as tepid tea. She’d put up a fight against Grey’s domineering disposition only to cave in seconds later. Her naivety is a convenient excuse for her constant uncertainty thus making her a ready victim of Grey.

Sex is a weapon of power that Grey uses with impunity. He learnt this from his Dominant – now a good friend – who introduced him to the world of S&M when he was 15 years old and which he, in turn, uses on his bevy of submissive. It’s a cycle, as painted by EL James, which is justified in the narrative with the detachment of Grey from his feelings and his throng of submissive until he meets Anastasia, the deus ex machina completely turned on its head. She upsets the unsteady balance of main character, giving the reader the hint of a problem, conflict and intense climax of the narrative structure. Similar to Bella and Edward in Meyer’s Twilight, Grey is unable to read Anastasia who is drawn to him like moth to a flame. The impact of sex-in-your-face (reminiscent of the first several episodes of True Blood in Season 1) is completely elided. EL James has romanticized the dichotomy of dominance and submissive, making Grey and Anastasia victims of the cycle where salvation from depravity and descent to depravity lies in the fairy tale idea of “true love.”

Meyer’s puerile Twilight is reworked in Fifty Shades of Grey in a non-supernatural setting and adult storyline, but not exactly less eldritch. If Meyer frowned on explicit sex both in the book and in the movie, EL James happily regaled her readers with graphic full-on S&M episodes that weren’t few and far in between. The readers eventually lose sight of the tyrannical dominant and submissive relationship with the subplots of disguised courtly love transposed to modern times. The book, in fact, resembles a Wikipedia entry on S&M and the visual version is coming. A movie adaptation will be released soon, as the ingredients of a blockbuster movie that will keep the tills ringing are hard to ignore.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by ako_si_aoi on September 24, 2012 at 1:51 pm

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