Updated on May 19, 2015
16. ’50 Writers on 50 Shades of Grey’ ed. by Lori Perkins
’50 Writers’ is a collection of essays about the publishing phenomenon that is the ’50 Shades’ trilogy. There are articles from writers, readers, journalists, editors (including the editor of ’50 Shades, who knew it had one…) and BDSM specialists. Each critiques a different aspect of the book and, surprisingly, there are probably more people praising its various merits than slagging off how truly terrible it is. But then, I am biased because I suffer from good taste.
OK, no, being serious this book did open my eyes to a lot of the things that the trilogy has going for it. Plenty of the articles made sound points, although I’d put that down more to the intelligence of the critics than the quality of the books themselves. Perkins claims the books aren’t badly written, but that Ana’s is the voice of the ‘everywoman’, whilst Hilda Hutcherson argues that the trilogy is important because it has been sexually liberating for so many women.
And of course these arguments are valid, but I just can’t get away from how bad it all is. Sure, Ana may be speaking for the masses, but does she have to be so dumb? The books have reignited the sexual appetites of thousands of people, but couldn’t they at least have been well written? Why did shiterature have to spark this ‘revolution’? Why couldn’t something good have done the same thing? There’s this implication that what is ‘popular’ and what is ‘good’ don’t tend to be the same, but why not? I realise I’m effectively whining in the wind here, and it’s all very well moaning that all the millions of other (better) erotic books didn’t have the same impact, but I don’t care. ’50 Shades’ happened, I don’t like it, and all I can do is moan about it. And hey, it’s my blog and I’ll moan if I want to.
I’ll try and be a little more cogent now. The following are two of my favourite points from this book. First, the basis of the story is that Christian is interested in BDSM because he was neglected and abused as a child (suggesting that this is the only reason anyone would be interested in BDSM), but what awakens in Ana is exactly the same desire, and she had a perfectly normal upbringing. So all that time Ana spends bemoaning the fact that Christian’s past has turned him into a freak is wasted and unfounded, because she doesn’t even think about her own feelings. Second, another of the writers made the point that, however sexually liberating the book may be, it also encourages toxic relationships. Sure, you can have mind-blowing sex, but it comes hand in hand with stalking, emotional manipulation and a total lack of mutual respect.
Ultimately, I came away from this book with the overwhelming feeling that ’50 Shades’ simply can’t stand up to this sort of detailed criticism because it was never meant to. It was a piece of fan-fiction that took off, and it’s only because it became a phenomenon that people are reading and critiquing it so heavily. It falls apart under this level of analysis because it was a shaky structure to begin with: it’s fine to just look at the facade, but get closer and start examining the bricks and they’re going to crumble in your hands.
Having said that (and if you’ve made it through this fairly rambling post, here’s your pay-off), I have decided to over-analyse the next book in my usual style. Come back in July. It’s happening. Sigh.
“It would just be nice that the paradigm shift in literature and publishing would have been better written.”
I have a friend of mine to thank for making me aware of this book and also sending me a copy!