by Billie Downer
Outselling Harry Potter, Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and, recently, the Highway Code, 50 Shades of Grey is still selling so fast that it is now the most popular book in the UK--- ever.
And yet, it’s been ripped apart by critics, with Tanya Gold of The Times claiming ‘The prose style isn’t there; it ran out of bed seeking Horlicks, and even if Battoe [the audio book reader] didn’t sound like a Valley Girl wandering into the wrong sex scene, she has nothing to work with. E L James, who developed the story out of Twilight fan faction, does terrible things to clichés, and can’t do dialogue’. However, looking at the figures, is this a fair assessment? As the sales figures clock up as quickly as the criticism, are we going to need new ways of measuring the success of a novel?
The plot depicts recent college graduate Ana Steele's first encounter with billionaire Christian Grey. The couple fall head over heels for each other, with only one glitch in their love story: control freak Christian wants Ana to sign a contract outlining his role as dominant in their relationship. The plot then continues with an ongoing negotiation between Ana and Christian, determining how their relationship will work. The first novel concludes with Ana leaving Christian as she is unable to accept his ‘needs’ in their relationship.
After outlining the plot it appears that Tanya Gold has a point --- not a lot going on but contracts, punishment and a circular structure.
However, in my opinion (and E L James’, for that matter), Gold has overlooked a crucial factor in her critique of the 50 Shades trilogy: it’s a love story. The huge popularity of this book, favoured particularly by women, is not due to the literary style, technical language or descriptive depictions of intimate situations. Most importantly, this trilogy depicts the struggle of two lovers overcoming difficulties to be together. At times, this struggle becomes too difficult for Ana, as she leaves at the end of the first book, but James shows that such difficulties can be worked out. Christian and Ana conclude the series happily married with children.
So I return to the question of measuring the success of a novel.
Sales-figures-wise, this novel has more than achieved it; as a literary art form perhaps not so much (it’s nowhere to be seen on the current Man Booker Prize shortlist). But what about the impact it has had upon readers? Psychologist Dr. Pamela Stephenson praises it as “a fantasy world to give us some ideas,” and TOWIE alumna Amy Childs commented, “I think it can save people’s marriages.”
Overall, I think that E L James has constructed a gripping romantic fairytale featuring characters the readers find themselves in love with --- just with a legal contract and unwavering sexual semantic. A Cinderella for adults, the success of this book is indisputable.