Fifty Shades of Fucked Up

31 August 2012

It. Is. Everywhere.

A curious grandma totters into Readings, “Do you have that new book, really popular, something about shades of green?”

The sales assistant, jaded from answering this question all day, replies: “50 Shades of Grey is sold out across our stores, we’re hoping to get some next week.”

“Oh,” Granny pushes on regardless, “so what’s it about, is it a detective novel?”

The sales assistant struggles for words, “Umm… not really. It’s more like a Mills and Boon… but with a little extra spice, if you know what I mean”.

“Oh? Erotica?”

“It’s basically porn, yes.”

Granny shuffles out, shocked that the most popular book in the shops, the one that has sold out across the world and smashed records set by The Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter, is pornography. Rude!


Born as an e-book in 2011 E.L James’ “mummy porn” has become so popular that the paperback version is selling out everywhere. There is something about Anastasia Steele’s transition to womanhood via bondage that has gotten everyone talking. Of course, I had to read it.

For a book that’s supposed to be porn it takes forever to get to the sex, instead constantly reminding the reader that Ana is so freaking ordinary. James writes her target audience squarely into the character of Ana—women who like reading (Ana is a self-confessed “curl-up-with-a-book-in-a-comfy-chair kind of girl”), are a tad insecure, and are attracted to brooding gorgeous, decidedly male millionaires. I say ‘decidedly’ male because Christian is the definition of hyper-masculinity and the whole novel is very heteronormative, to use two of my favourite arts buzzwords. Unfortunately, Ana wouldn’t dream of having a fling with a Christine Steele. Instead it’s your classic boy meets girl, girl likes boy, boy has bondage playroom… wait, what?

And this is where things get interesting. There isn’t that much sex at the outset, particularly when you compare it to classic S&M novels like The Story of O, where the very first scene involves the removal of intimate items of clothing. When we do enter Christian’s playroom, however, kinkiness abounds and the grandmas get properly shocked. There are whips, handcuffs, spanking and enough bodily fluids to keep this on the best sellers list for quite a while yet.

Obviously the idea of a young, intelligent student signing herself over to be the sex-slave of a millionaire playboy is extremely problematic. I went into this with my feminist glasses on, ready to rail against the subjection of women. But there are a few things wrong with denouncing the novel as wholly ‘anti-feminist’. Ana is very financially independent; she also outwits Christian several times and proves his equal when negotiating the sex-contract. This contract itself represents her control over him, to some extent. Most of the time she seems to enjoy herself immensely, and Christian is attracted to her because she challenges him intellectually. On the flip side, Ana is totally obsessed with a man who allegedly respects her but gets off on having complete control and dominance over her.

At the end of the day there are reasons why this novel is so popular. It’s predictable, and the writing can only be described as clunky (mixed metaphors and confusing clichés make up 50%, while the other half is descriptions of Christian’s constantly burning gaze). But it’s not as dumb as its parent sell-out Twilight. There are half-assed literary references to Shakespeare, Austen, and the Brontes, and James keeps bragging that she’s read Hound of the Baskervilles. It’s aimed at semi-literary readers who want the fun of Mills and Boon but with more interesting sex.

If you’re after quality erotica with philosophical undertones and nuanced, subtle ideas read Anais Nin’s short stories, or The Story of O by Pauline Reage. If you’re after a few good laughs and something that reads like The Bold and the Beautiful, 50 Shades will be a good holiday from the more intelligent reading you usually enjoy. If this is the only novel you’ve read in the past year you need an urgent appointment with a librarian.

The Best and Worst Sentences from Fifty Shades of Grey

“How does anyone look this good and still be legal?”

“I’m fifty shades of fucked up Anastasia”

“fifty shades of exasperating”

“my favourite fifty shades”

“He withdraws his finger and very slowly inserts the objects, one slow, delicious ball at a time. Oh my. They’re body temperature, warmed by our collective mouths. It’s a curious feeling”

“They make me needy, needy for sex”

“I sidle up to him, my blood thrumming through my body, and this time… I’m excited. Aroused.”

“His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel… or something.”

“I’m entrusting myself to a man who, by his own admission is fifty shades of fucked up”

Number of times the phrase “fifty shades” is used:

Number of times the word “fuck” is used:

Number of times “grey” is used as an adjective:

References to Christian’s gaze:
69 (very apt).

…here are all the references to Christian’s gaze (Oh God all of the GAZES):
“His eyes are alight” “his grey gaze is on me” “Dreaming of smoking grey eyes…” “turning his grey gaze on me” “I have to tear myself away from his cloudy gaze” “His grey gaze holds mine” “His grey eyes blazing” “his grey eyes heated” “grey eyes implore” “eyes blazing” “I’m hypnotised by his grey eyes staring” “his eyes a scorching smoking grey” “burning narrowed grey eyes” “unfathomable grey eyes bright” “His eyes are open now, blistering with heat” “His eyes are bright with wild excitement” “his eyes burn into mine” “grey eyes intense” “his eyes burn” “his eyes burn” “His burning grey eyes and that intense smouldering stare come into my mind’s eye” “He has beautiful eyes” “I recall his smoky grey gaze” “his eyes dark with want” “his eyes gleaming” “his grey eyes intense” “penetrating stare” “grey eyes burn molten silver with compelling need” “hypnotised by his glare” “the frosty grey eyes of Christian Grey” “Christian’s grey eyes burn” “his scorching eyes intent on mine” “His eyes are big grey and sincere” “his grey eyes cold shards of smoky glass” “eyes burning bright ‘in my pocket, condom’ he breathes” “soft grey eyes” “when he reopens (his eyes) and gazes at me they are smouldering smoky embers” “I squirm under his intense gaze” “grey eyes twinkle wickedly” “His look goes from dark to smouldering” “His gaze is so intense” “My eyes jerk up to meet his, and they’re alight with fire and a trace of amusement” “his eyes are blazing” “his grey gaze full of promise and longing” “dark, hungry grey gaze” “His grey eyes blaze” “Christian’s grey gaze does not leave mine” “He turned his bright grey gaze to mine” “grey eyed boy” “grey eyes glowing” “his eyes burning” “he gazes at me impassively” “bright grey eyes shining” “grey eyes twinkling” “grey eyes wide” “grey gaze scorches” “his eyes blaze” “grey eyes into blue” “grey eyes, smouldering, expressive” “his eyes molten grey” “grey eyes dancing” “grey eyes glowing” “smouldering grey gaze” “His gaze is impassive, except for his eyes which glow with a barely leashed excitement” “his eyes blaze” “His grey eyes blaze like a turbulent storm” “His eyes are flinty grey and guarded” “his grey eyes burning”

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