Not a book review: Fifty Shades of Gray

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I first heard of this book sometime in 2012 when my fifteen year old daughter announced that it was all the talk at her private high school for girls in Oxford. It appears that the book had become unofficial required reading for fifth and sixth graders, and in due course a copy came home. I had often complained that my daughter did not read enough, that she was confined mainly to reading driven by her studies, but this book was also compelled by peer pressure. In due course, he announced that he had finished the book and I asked him how he had found it. It was said that it was not suitable for you, Dad, and it was quite misspelled.

That was three years ago, and it seems that by that time the book had already broken many sales records. I discovered that as early as August 1, 2012, Amazon UK had announced that it had sold more copies of Fifty Shades of Gray than the entire Harry Potter series combined, making EL James its best-selling author, replacing JK Rowling. My daughter had never shown any interest in the Harry Potter series, and none of these volumes graced our shelves, so the temporary intrusion of Fifty Shades of Gray represented her first step into what might be called popular fiction created for a mass market. .

With my curiosity piqued, I searched for literary reviews of the book and found that its erotic nature had led to it being called ‘Mommy Porn’ because it was supposed to be more popular with married women over thirty. However, it was also said to be popular with teenage girls and college students, a fact that I was able to confirm from my daughter’s reports. I also learned that the popularity of the book had sparked a renewed interest in erotic literature, leading to the reissue of previous best-sellers in this genre. However, I am not aware of any lingering interest developing in my daughter’s school, as the Fifty Shades of Gray seemingly cast its fleeting shadow and disappeared into a clear blue sky.

Having not read the book, I cannot write a review, but many literary critics have reported that Fifty Shades of Gray is poorly written and has a “negligible plot”. Sir Salman Rushdie is said to have said that he had never seen anything so badly written published. So it seems my daughter is in good company in her writing judgment. This raises the question: why is the book so popular? Maybe I should go back to my school days to find the answer. In the 1950s, DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover was being convicted of obscene, and plain copies were circulating. Then, as now, I suspect, real interest was limited to a few well-leafed pages.

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