Wednesday, 15 August 2012

More Shades of Fifty

Okay, I’ve now completed reading FSOG so finally feel in a position to follow up my post of 18 July.
On one level, I’m a bit mystified about the scale of its success.  A Radio Kent announcer described it as Mills and Boon with whips, and I can see why.  The cover designs are a big factor from a marketing viewpoint because it doesn’t look like a stereotypical erotica book.  But then it isn’t what I would describe as erotica anyway.  So maybe I’ve answered my own question.  It’s a mainstream commercial love story with a mildly kinky veneer.  And a very moralistic tale at that, with what I suppose you could call “traditional values”.  These are my observations:

The writing style has been criticised as repetitive and irritating.  Then again, the story is told from Ana’s viewpoint so maybe it is the character that uses language that grates – in which case this is clever characterisation.  I haven’t decided yet. Personally, I did not feel empathy for Ana or Christian yet I was still curious to see how the story ended, so the writing does have a compelling quality.

The story is selling a lifestyle.  Affluent, without financial limits.  Money = power = sexual magnetism. The rich masculine (and patronising) hero is hugely attractive to the virginal student, who cannot understand how he could find “someone like me” in the least desirable.  (See below my reference to Rebecca).   I thought of Pretty Woman as I was reading, and also Carrie and Mr Big from Sex in the City

A number of romantic literary heroes have been compared to Christian Grey.  For example, Mr Rochester and Heathcliff have been cited.  But Anastasia is more Bridget Jones than Jane Eyre or Kathy, and in some ways I am reminded of the relationship between Maxim de Winter and the young and, initially naïve, heroine in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, with traces of Eliza Doolittle.  Which brings me to the teacher/pupil dynamic, which can be very sexy (and un-pc), and is an integral part of the Dom/sub dynamic. 

In Ana, there are even echoes of Richardson’s Clarissa, and de Sade’s Justine, who would rather die than surrender their virtue, to have their innocence corrupted.  And Ana is terrified of being corrupted.  Rather, she would save Christian from himself and his “dark” tendencies.  Again this refers to the literary tradition of the female fantasy of reforming and saving a damaged man.  Although deeply embedded, it is based on a fallacy (look what happened to Nancy in Oliver Twist). 
Nothing Natural

What I find personally offensive about the book is not the sexual content but the underlying premise that to derive pleasure from a fully consenting adult BDSM relationship you must be psychologically damaged.  That is grossly insulting.  Hang on, you might say, it’s just a book, a work of fiction and of course, that’s true.  So I’m being hypersensitive.  Probably.  It just touches a nerve. 

Although very different in tone to FSOG, Jenny Diski’s 1986 novel Nothing Natural, which charts the destructive affair between a vulnerable woman and a sinister dominant male character incensed me for similar reasons.   The BDSM relationships I have experienced have been loving, respectful and never abusive, either physically or emotionally.  

FSOG is a clever book.  I admired the way (from a marketing viewpoint) that the book ends on a cliff-hanger so you must buy the next book to know how the story continues and resolves.  Will she be reunited with Mr Grey?  And will she save her man?  (Reader, I married him).  She will, of course, have his child, thus completing her mission.  An old fashioned tale, not in the least transgressive.  Will I read Book 2?  Yes, I probably will.  Despite myself.  

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