Fifty Shades of Failure

Fifty Shades of Failure  fifty-shades-of-grey-300-400

Okay, I've been threatening to post this for the better part of a year. Time to share the magic. And just to be clear, it's not the novel that's the failure here. It's me. Back in the dark days of starting this blog, I had an idea for what I thought would be an interesting series of articles: I would read Fifty Shades of Grey in instalments of 50 pages, and report objectively on what I'd found. Why? Well, the book kept coming up in conversation, especially with writers, but nobody involved ever seemed to have read a word. To make the proposition more interesting, I decided to throw in 50 pages of Lady Chatterley's Lover as well, and just for fun, I'd add a lesbian biker novel called Satan's Best by Red Jordan Arobateau (generously donated to my personal library by Mr Fintan O'Higgans of Brussels). So you'd get pure trash, great literature and middle-brow trash, all concerning sex. Sounds like fun, right?

No. It really wasn't. I gave up on Satan and Chatterley early on, for very different reasons, and around the half-way point I had to stop reporting on Fifty Shades in detail as well, though I did finish the book and can tell you where the naughty bits are. However, looking over the wreckage of my experiment, I decided at least part of it might be worth sharing, if only as a public service for anyone who still might be curious about this congealing fad. So here's part one: my Fifty Shades of Failure.

Fifty Shades of Grey – the first 50 pages

The Story: Anastasia Steele interviews sexy under-thirty billionaire Christian Grey in his office for her college paper. He uses the word 'control' a lot. She flusters and blushes. Later he shows up at the hardware store where she works and buys a lot of cables, masking tape, and rope, while stroking his chin, raising one eyebrow and smiling enigmatically. Ana blushes, her heart pounds, her breathing quickens. Grey takes Ana out for coffee and stops her from walking into a passing cyclist. Then he tells her she's better off without him and stalks off while she hits the ground sobbing.

sweetvalleyhigh21Big disappointed sigh. I knew nothing at all about this book before I cracked the covers, except that I'd frequently heard the series dismissed as 'mom porn'. From this, I'd had the impression that Fifty Shades would be the story of a mom-aged woman, say mid-thirties to forties, going to a lot of strange S&M orgies and getting it on with a pack of youngfellas, and possibly some girlies thrown in there too. Sadly, although we're introduced to two secondary love interests and Ana's brassy roommate, no one ever gets their kit off except Ana and Grey. Now, as anyone with more than a passing aquaintance with porn-flavoured fiction will tell you, if you have five characters in a story, five people will do it, or do themselves, in every possible combination. But nope. Not here. The writing was also not as glaringly awful as I'd been led to believe, just a bit dull and cliché-ridden. What it really reminded me of was teenage romances I'd read as a kid – Sweet Valley High, books like that.

Sex: Well, we're fifty pages into the erotic novel of the century, and the main characters have done nothing more than hold hands. Plus Ana's descriptions of desire ("...strange muscles deep in my belly clench suddenly....") read more like she's talking about indigestion. But it's early days. Let's move on.

Lady Chatterley's Lover – the first 50 pageslady-chatterley

Story: Connie, our heroine, marries Clifford Chatterley, who goes off to war and comes home paralysed from the waist down, eliminating all possibility of married boom-boom time. Clifford is a baronet; they isolate themselves in their immense house where Clifford becomes a published writer and Connie goes for a lot of walks. Clifford invites several literary figures to stay in his sprawling home. Connie boffs one of them, a Dublin playwright, in her sitting room. Never trust an Irishman! A short-lived affair begins and ends.

Sex: Not much yet. Connie gets it on with Michaelis from Dublin, but D.H. cuts to the afterglow fairly quickly. The writing feels immediate and contemporary, and after Fifty Shades, it was a relief to spend some time with adults. D.H. is also much more sympathetic to the female half of the equation than I'd expected:

"A man was like a child with his appetites.  A woman had to yield him what he wanted, or like a child he would probably turn nasty and flounce away and spoil what was a very pleasant connection."

Been there.

Satan's Best by Red Jordan Arobateau – the first 50 pages

res-Satans BestStory: Angel is out of jail, mourning the death of her girlfriend and making calls for a crooked charity for a living. Her respite is her motorcycle and the biker bar she frequents. It's there that she sees a beautiful blonde on the arm of a less than sensitive fellow biker, and vows to do something about it.

The a bit rough. Tenses shift around for no good reason. 'Through' is 'thru', 'and' is '&', 'though' is 'tho'. There is an honest, four-letter vitality here, something that made me feel like calling people up and reading it to them over the phone. Yet at the same time I was thinking: how am I going to get through another 450 pages of this? Here are a couple of heavily censored extracts.  The all-caps are not my addition, though the 'boings' are.

"That sinister glare the boing in the Mohawk had given her had caused Angel to pat the bulging gun of the .38 caliber revolver under her leather vest. 'Why fight and get sweaty & my bones broke when I can fire off a few rounds & stop the enemy in his tracks?'"


 'DON'T USE THAT KIND OF LANGUAGE IN FRONT OF THE BOINGS!' bellowed Commancho. With a sweep of her hand indicating the ladies seated on the sofa."

Sex: Nothing yet, though Angel does reminisce about her nights with her lost girlfriend ("Her willing arms & thighs & lips parting for her use..."), and an anonymous couple end up on the floor of the Oil Bar, boinging away.

In a nutshell: "We were moving thru the world fast. Rattling, rattling like a cue ball thru the channels. Having no expectations besides coming out of a tavern like any goddamn night, but with a lady on my arm to lay and to love."

Tune in next time! If you dare!

Part 2     Part 3!

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