Though I am currently a writing teacher by trade, I must admit (ashamedly?) that romance novels of the ilk of Mills & Boon have long been one of my guilty pleasures. And while the entire population of the world spent last year being swept off their feet by the phenomenon that is Fifty Shades of Grey, come summer 2012, I had no idea what was in store for me. I picked up the first book of the trilogy from Sainsbury’s; it was on offer – half price. “If I don’t like it, I can just give it to charity, so someone will get something out of it, and it won’t have cost much at all, so it’s not a complete waste of money,” I told myself as I glanced suspiciously at it as it sat in the corner of my shopping basket.
I scurried home, curled up in an armchair with a cup of tea, and gingerly opened up to the first page. I can’t even remember the point at which I could no longer tear my eyes away and stop reading. In spite of all of the Olympic madness going on outside, and all of the dear, darling friends I had arranged to meet, and all of the touristy things I had finally gotten the gumption to decide to do, I finished the first part in two days. Immediately after reaching the end of it, I raced to Sainsbury’s, knocking grannies and children out of my way in my haste, my desperation to get to the bookshelf. The offer was still on – would copies of the next two volumes be left? The uncertainty was the most painful torture, somewhat akin to being hanged, drawn and quartered, mentally. But lady luck was on my side – I purchased “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed,” and proceeded to devour them hungrily.
I demolished the entire trilogy, some 1,500 pages, in four days.
Yes, the dialogue is repetitive. Yes, the sex is often cringey. Yes, Anastasia Steele has got to be the most annoying protagonist in the history of writing, whether she’s narrating, speaking, or doing her inner goddess interior monologue thing. But oh how addictive it is! E.L. James’s world is like a packet of Jaffa cakes – it’s all or nothing, and once you’ve had one, you can’t stop until the very last crumb is gone.
I found it a thoroughly enjoyable read, and a liberating experience to boot. Before feminists take up arms and storm my apartment, let me explain myself. The liberating aspect, which has nothing to do with the actual story itself in fact, was this – being able to peruse the so-called “naughty books” in Waterstone’s and W.H. Smith’s at leisure, without any looks of reproach, or sideways glances from anybody at all. It was marvellous! Seeing women brazenly ploughing their way through it on the train, oblivious to all who might disapprove, was a pleasure to see.
Another side effect is that it also made me want to splash out and buy sexy lingerie for no one else but me, which I promptly did – a positive effect in my book.
While I’m not waiting for my very own Christian Grey to sweep me off my feet any time soon, I’m quite (unashamedly?) certain that my penchant for cheesy romance novels will never completely leave me, and that’s quite all right.