A couple of months back, I wrote about a new book called Fifty Shades of Grey which had just been published in Ireland. Gosh, that seems a long time ago now, back when men were men and mommies didn’t read porn on the Luas.
I no longer own my copy of Fifty Shades. I don’t know who does. Once the EL James smutfest became a popular hit, it was ripped from me faster than a free pair of Jimmy Choos in Brown Thomas and passed on and on. For the few still innocent about it and curious, I tell them it’s like a Sweet Valley High novel blended with the James Spader film Secretary: all laugh-out-loud, adolescent language paired with hardcore, restraints-laden sex.
But realistically there aren’t many people left who don’t know about 19-year-old Anastasia, her inner goddess and its tendency to “sway and writhe to carnal rhythms” while Christian Grey pats his brown, plaited leather riding crop with relish. Just like that, S&M has gone mainstream.
As I write this column, a group email has been sent around by a colleague with the best Irish Fifty Shades of Grey jokes (sample: “`Give it to me, give it to me’, he roared aggressively. Some days Mary hated working at Ulster Bank.”). Headlines for articles these days brandish lines like `Fifty Shades of Skin’ (a review of Magic Mike), and a joke advert for Dulux paint (showing you their version of fifty shades of grey) has become a Twitter hit.
Dulux should be delighted: every promoter worth his or her salt is trying to think of something to tie in with the book that has become a phenomenon. That well-known dominator of kitchens Gordon Ramsey told the Ray D’Arcy show he and his wife liked the audio book version — cue the icky punchline about hands-free versions. A-list actors are duking it out for the role of Christian in the film version.
But alas, for me the joke has grown old. Now the entire country is reading the book (21,000 copies sold in the Republic last week), Ireland has become like the orgy you’re not allowed leave, even though your wrinkled old grandparents have arrived to the party.
And the Red Room of Pain (the bookshop) is about to get more threatening. Fifty Shades will eventually reach saturation point, but that won’t spell the end. Far from it. “Publishers are releasing at least 20 of these kinds of books in the months up to Christmas,” says Dave O’Callaghan, books buyer with Eason. “Two have come in this week. One of them, Haven of Obedience, was originally what you’d call a top-shelf book. The original cover showed a semi-naked woman straddling a gentleman in leather. Now it’s a lovely Fifty Shades-esque silk scarf cover. People wouldn’t have bought the original in a million years.”
But they’ll buy the book now. They’ll buy anything that looks like Fifty Shades of Grey — Jane Eyre Laid Bare and the spoof Fifty Shades of Mr Darcy are also on the way. Remember misery lit? Remember the crap you had to wade through to get to one decent novel? This will be worse.
In S&M sex, as opposed to `vanilla’, there’s usually a code — a line Anastasia could say to make Christian back off with the whips and make her a nice cup of tea instead. If only there was one for this book. EL James, I have reached my limit and I’m begging for mercy. Please make it stop: this poor submissive can’t take any more pain.