I wasn’t sure I wanted to ‒ having tried a Mills & Boon in my youth, I realised it might appeal to several people, but it just wasn’t for me. The sexy bits must be nice though, I thought, looking at her face, flushed even though the air-conditioner was on, her expression one of renewed zeal. She thrust her bosom and Fifty Shades Of Grey at me as if in one swift motion. “You won’t regret it,” she purred.
I had avoided Twilight for so long (Fifty Shades was originally written as Twilight fan fiction), the third movie was already out, and everyone knew the ending.
I had read the Tumblr highlighting all the terrible writing. I felt like I knew Twilight anyway, and the only feeling it inspired in my breast was one of annoyance that it took a once favourite word and turned it into a story about glittery, lovesick vampires.
[Disclaimer: I’m not saying my reading habits are better than most peoples’. Far from it. I just get impatient with bad writing really fast. I’d be happy to read trash if the trash was well written, but if you’re looking for a way to feel superior, here: I’m a devoted fan of the truly awful trainwreck of a show that is The Real Housewives Of New York City.]
I thought about it. I had heard the book was about sex ‒ sexy-sex-sex ‒ and that it was selling faster than Harry Potter or the Bible, which, if you consider the lack of sex scenes in either, was not surprising. Was this basically porn for women? “Yes,” she breathed, “I’ve never felt the same way before.”
Of course, being a poor writer with a limited budget etc etc, I acquired the book through nefarious means, set it up on my Kindle and that night I picked it up, fully intending to ditch it after the first page. But ho-ho! What was this! The book was not only about sexy-sex-sex, it was sexy-sex-sex, but in a way that was revelatory to plain old vanilla me. Spoiler: Christian Grey, the rich handsome millionaire is totally into BDSM, which he recruits young, naïve, constantly-biting-on-lower-lip Anastasia Steele into.
The writing stank like the naala outside my house when the wind gets going, but Ms James knew her bondage and I read feverishly through the riding crops and the spanking and the almost painful showers. “Oh my,” I thought, and laughed the next time I saw a photo of people on the subway reading this book, their legs crossed, their breathing, no doubt, rapid.
“See?” she said, smugly, “It just makes me feel like I want to have sex all the time.”
I hadn’t ever thought of bondage as a thing that “normal” people might be into, but here were women around the globe saying how amazing it was that BDSM was right there, out in the open and mainstream. Besides which: smut for women! We were empowered! Well, empowered by a girl who seems to have absolutely zero agency in her own life, but hey, a dirty book is a dirty book.
And that’s where it should have stayed. Hoping to cash in on the huge popularity of the books, a movie studio bought the rights and Fifty Shades Of Holy Crap This Is A Terrible Idea will be out soon. By all accounts, it looks like a disaster.
Not only do the lead actors hate each other, they also seem to hate the characters they play, the script and there’s very little redeeming sexy-sex-sex to turn this around, as far as I can tell. What was everyone in charge thinking?
Women will watch porn, yes, but only the comfort of their bedrooms like everyone else.
Apart from the sex, there is absolutely no plot. None. Zero. I mean, there’s some attempt to make a romantic storyline out of a damaged broody hero and a young woman who wins his heart, but it’s such a bad plot, you find yourself saying, “Ugh, don’t bother about the plot” when you recommend it to friends looking for something to place by their bedside tables.
So. Friends. Fans. People who cheered for BDSM going mainstream. I give you premature warning, like an old crone in a Greek play croaking out an augury: do not watch this movie. It will disappoint you.
Maybe take a nice warm shower and lie down in bed for a while, when there’s no one home, and re-read your favourite bits for a while. Nice and slow. Take your time.
Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is the author of three books with her fourth, Before And Then After, a collection of short stories out in April 2015.