Things are getting rather steamy on the literature scene right now. Wherever I go, it seems that I can't escape the endless chatter about Fifty Shades of Grey. Struggling to close my ears and fight what seems to be a sudden modern classic, I thought I might as well join the debate.
No, I haven't read it. Yet. Actually I most probably won't be reading it- as a lover of the real classics (as in those doorwedge Dickensian type books) I can honestly say Fifty Shades... isn't really my type of thing. But I've looked into it and I've been incapable of ignoring the general hype.
It's the first in a trilogy that traces the relationship between a college graduate and a young business magnate. It falls into the category of erotic fiction and, according to Wikipedia, has elements of bondage, dominance & submission, as well as BDSM.
So... it's a steamy, sexual novel? My friends, the ones who will admit to having read it, say that it's not particularly well written. 'Why read it then?' I ignorantly asked. The answer I received, I shall quote: 'there's just something about it though'. Just something about it. Something compelling I assume. Still, to me, compared with the modern geniuses of Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes and Salman Rushdie, it still sounds a bit Mills & Boon-ish. A guilty pleasure read if you like. Much like reading Heat magazine....
But guilty pleasure or not, the book has started an overwhelmingly popular trend in reading. Selling 40 million copies worldwide and with book rights in 37 countries, the book has become the fastest-selling paperback of all time, even surpassing the books of my adolescence, the Harry Potter series. Fifty Shades has topped both the UK and the New York Times bestseller lists. For the UK, the whole trilogy is in the top 10. But what is most noticeable is that it is not a minority in this list. Indeed, as a newspaper recently pointed out, the majority of the books that make up the Top 10 UK Bestsellers at the moment are erotic fiction.
So if it's not particularly well written, what is the main attraction? Is it true after all that sex really does sell?
It looks like the answer is yes. Let's face it, we live in a material world where appearance, sex appeal and glamour are high priorities within the media - it's also subconsciously at the forefront of most of our minds. Personality and humour is still important of course but at the end of the day it seems that modern society sees image first and foremost.
Yet the English student in me strives to see something more. Could Fifty Shades...be more about adventure and enlightenment - a college graduate's introduction to all things sexual until (according to Wikipedia again) she realises that the extreme stuff is just a little bit too extreme for her? If that's the case, then it is about personal exploration, making the plot ambitious and daring - sex or no sex. However with the murmurs of my friends ringing in my ears about the style of the book's writing, and the lack of anything more exciting than what goes on in the bedroom included in the plot, I am struggling to convince myself.
Therefore I have, perhaps ignorantly, concluded that all this eroticism stuff is getting a little bit boring. A bit shallow. A bit overdone.
So, just as the androgynous trend in fashion rebels against the curve flaunting trends so often showcased in the high street, reading should rebel too. We need to reclaim intelligence, pushing forth novels like Julian Barnes' A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters which challenges what we perceive as history, what we previously thought about the world in fact, through a series of amusing and thoughtful short stories. But quell the ringing of those alarm bells. Just because I used the word intelligence doesn't mean boring. We just need something more thought provoking, more stimulating than numerous chapters set in the bedroom with whips and chains furnishing the walls.
Broaden your mind - that's what reading is all about isn't it?
Besides, if that does sound like too much for you, fear not - McEwan writes sex scenes in most of his books too...