Before I read 50 Shades of Grey, I read a lot of what other people thought about it. The reactions to this phenomenon, as you’ve probably seen, are varied and often extreme. Some have loved it dearly, others have mocked it mercilessly. It’s the latter that convinced me I had to see for myself what it was all about.
In a nutshell: it wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read. It wasn’t the worst either.
To me, a lot of it comes down to expectations. When I read fiction, I usually enjoy thrillers, mysteries and romance. When I picked up 50 Shades, my expectations were this: a few hours’ worth of entertainment and a glimpse into a fantasy that causes so many shades of projection. To that end, I wasn’t disappointed.
So it’s meant for an adult audience. It’s not porn. If you were looking for that, there might be too much story around it. I assume that it’s not your regular BDSM story, because there’s a lot of tug or war and negotiating between the characters. Does a novel ‘owe’ to reality or can it be an escape from reality? Can it be both?
Much has been said about the repetitions. Holy cow, I did notice them. It’s probably the critique point that sticks the most, because it’s the most subjective. I concede that the same message would have come across with fewer of them.
As for the characters--to me, they’re a couple of kids of that age when you think you know everything just because you’ve escaped your teenage years. Hey, we’ve all been there.
I failed to see the dangerous seducer in Christian Grey, not because of his history, but because I didn’t find him that much more mature than Anastasia. Also, I pictured him more on the right wing of the political spectrum. They way he talked about the ‘redistribution of wealth’ seemed to confirm that image.
As a feminist, there were a few red flags for me. They were mostly about his refusal to not buy things for her and the way it made her feel.
Is it a dangerous book that sugarcoats domestic violence? I think it’s a book that made a lot of women say ‘Shh, don’t bother me, I’m reading’, defining space. The problem is that the spotlight all too often falls on variations of the same theme--the woman as submissive, the man as dominant. Same Old, isn’t it? That is part of a much bigger picture, and you can’t possibly be upset about this book and think the rest of the media, TV, movies, even news channels, are okay. ‘Same Old’ is just more subtle there.
50 Shades of Grey was based on fanfiction, and everyone who has delved into these communities knows that the storytelling there comes with many shades of relationships. I believe that by taking a look at this context, you get a better understanding of this breakthrough success. I’m sure that many of the first buyers were fans of E. L. James’ fanfiction, an audience that she built before the 50 Shades even existed. Congratulations to that.
There’s no need to protect or belittle this audience. In my opinion, it doesn’t make sense when we, as feminists, try to control other women’s choice of literature. It would be wrong, and the problems we face these days, are much more severe that that. As writers, it doesn’t serve us to irritate a huge group of potential readers by not taking them seriously.