The following post is courtesy of my friend, Nikki. She has a unique perspective on the topic that’s not about sensationalized sex or the question of the book’s origin. She wants to talk about the story. (Spoilers ahead– you’ve been warned.) Here’s Nikki’s POV*:
So this is THE topic at the moment: Fifty Shades of Grey and its sexy success versus the ethics of it being originally Twilight fan fiction which has been reworked and published.
I am not going discuss the ethics of pull to publish or the ethics of E.L James. Frankly the whole subject is giving me a headache and it is seldom the case that people are able to talk of their opinions about this rationally. It’s getting ugly out there, people! Fortunately Lori and I seem to be able to hold on to our rationale, while holding on to our different opinions. Love ya, Lori. I will say this though. I am a selfish person when it comes to books and stories, and I am very happy that E.L. James published her story because I got to put it on my bookshelf where I always wanted it. I feel the same about Sempre. It is possible that my selfish motives are colouring my opinion. And I just don’t care.
But enough about that. Fifty Shades is hot at the moment, good or bad. However I do take issue with the fact that all the news stories that I’ve seen, as well as many of the reviews lauding these books as sensational are focussing on the sex. “Book porn”, “Band aid for marriages”, “Housewives new sexy secret” are all headlines I have seen recently, never mind the opinion that it promotes violence towards women, spewed by a doctor who had never read any of the books. Why all this focus on the sex? Yes the sex is titillating but why do people not write about the story behind the sex? This book is not just back to back BDSM sex scenes (much to the dismay of another friend of mine). There is much more to it than that, and it bothers me that the kink is all that’s getting attention at the moment. In fact, for books sold as erotica I feel that this series really has very few sex scenes.
When I first read this story, I admit that I was not comfortable with the sex. I was also really uncomfortable with the hero’s seemingly chauvinistic qualities. There was one point where I honestly was just so angry with the characters that I really just wanted to give up on the whole thing. I’m really glad I didn’t.
Gradually, in an almost agonizingly slow fashion, E.L James weaves a story about a young, traumatized boy trapped in a controlling man’s body. He uses BDSM and Dom/sub sexual relationships as an emotional crutch. In the BDSM arena, Christian Grey can control his emotional and physical relationships. In fact it was his introduction to this world, as a young out of control teenager by a much older Dom female, which allowed Christian to experience sexual intimacy on a level he could accept. Imagine being a 15 year old boy and having no outlet for your inherent anger and no way of exploring your burgeoning sexuality; in this scenario BDSM gave this young boy a way of doing these things. Not a healthy way but the only way he could accept. It’s this story that I find so emotionally compelling. Christian Grey is a terribly broken human being.
The female protagonist, Ana, taps into something in Christian and makes him feel things he never knew he was capable of. Ana is not unappealing or boring or painfully shy. She is, in fact, exactly the type of woman Christian has always been attracted to – that is attractive, brunette, slim and intelligent. The only problem is that Ana is not a natural submissive. And it’s this that challenges Christian and to his surprise he finds he likes to be challenged.
Ana, in her turn, has to find a way to deal with this mercurial man. A man who has essentially been emotionally stunted and feels things as a teenager would, and often reacts in the same way. And yet, in stark contrast, this man has an incredible drive to succeed, and needs to be in control of every aspect of his life. And Ana needs to cope with this man, who she loves desperately, in a way that is acceptable to the both of them.
The three books in the Fifty Shades series, explore this relationship. The couple have various hurdles to clear, the BDSM being only one of them. Slowly, throughout the books you see these characters grow, stumble, get up again and fight for their love. It is romantic yes, but there are parts that are horrifyingly heart-breaking, parts that make you angry, parts that make you giggle. And at the end you find yourself reading about a strong relationship, a man in the process of healing, and a woman willing to put her life at risk for her family.
That, in my opinion is a good story, anyway you slice it. It would still be a good story if you removed all the sex. Not that the sex is gratuitous, as this is when both characters are at their most vulnerable, and some pivotal plot points occur in the Red Room of Pain. But the sex does not make the book. I turned the pages, not to find the next sex scene, but to find out what was going to happen to Christian and Ana.
And I’m not saying that E.L James is the next James Michener. Her writing style might not be to everyone’s taste; the books did have editing mistakes (it seems difficult to find a book these days that doesn’t); and yes the paperbacks are expensive. But I believe that she has told a brilliant story and I for one, am glad that that story is now available to a wide audience.
UPDATE: Nikki maintains her own blog o’fun, SA Ducky – Doodles of a Lurker. I wonder if she’ll change the name since she crossed over the lurker/participant line…