In the world of flogging books, books about flogging are all the rage
WHEN YOU CAN’T BUY a kinky book anywhere in the land, and a “surprise” delivery of 400 copies to Eason in Dublin sells out in three hours, it’s clear that something strange is going on. Dubbed “mummy porn”, “pornographic Cath Kidston” and “clit lit” – even talking about it can carry a taste warning – Fifty Shades of Grey has become the fastest-selling paperback of all time, outselling The Da Vinci Code and the Harry Potter books.
Since it came out in print, 12 weeks ago – it was originally published as an ebook last year – it has sold 85,000 copies here, though retailers estimate it could have sold 150,000 by now if its publisher, Random House, had been able to keep up with demand. In Britain, in the week up to June 30th, the sexually explicit trilogy – there are two more Fifty Shades books – sold almost a million copies, and the trilogy’s total global sales have reached 20 million copies. What do people – let’s face it, women – get out of it?
“For me, primarily, it is a romance, an extended Mills Boon,” says Patricia Murphy, who is “fiftyish” and lives in Ranelagh, in Dublin. “The S&M [sadomasochism] is really just the classic obstacle in the relationship. He is closed and distant, and feels he can’t be in a conventional relationship, and they negotiate their way through that.”
The plot, in which a literature student and virgin, Anastasia Steele, falls for a cold, obscenely wealthy businessman, Christian Grey, who turns out to be into whips, leather cuffs and cages, has attracted some feminist criticism. But Murphy says there is nothing demeaning about the relationship. “As the book goes on, [Anastasia] is really calling the shots. I don’t think the fact so many people are reading it says anything about their sexuality. It’s just a great piece of escapism. It’s a straightforward romance with some graphic sex.”
Sinéad, a 32-year-old single woman who lives in Cork, came across the book in early June when a friend couldn’t stop reading it. She borrowed it and has since read the other two in the series as well. “It’s pure filth,” she says with a laugh. “It’s a bit disturbing; so much of it is completely unrealistic, and the ending was disappointing.” But did she enjoy it? “Yes.”
An older man she works with had bought it for his wife. “I have definitely heard the book is helping sex lives, with wives suddenly hopping on their husbands.” But she believes women also use it for sexual self-pleasuring.
Karen Mulreid, who is 33 and lives in Celbridge, Co Kildare, has read all three books, having seen them reviewed in a magazine. “I used to like the Mills Boon and the Black Lace books, and I thought it would be something like that. It is drivel, nonsense and hilariously badly written, like Twilight for grown-ups but without a good story. There’s no mutual respect between Christian and Anastasia. I read all three just to see what happens. Christian has a dark secret that keeps getting hinted at, and you do want to see where they are going with it.”
The author behind the pseudonym EL James is Erica Leonard, a 48-year-old British married mother of two who used to be a TV producer, working on the BBC shows Have I Got News for You and Room 101. She recently admitted the series was her “midlife crisis writ large”, adding that she had “put all [her] fantasies in there”.
Marian, a Meath woman in her 30s, who is married with two children, says: “People say it’s very racy, but I think for anyone in their 30s it wouldn’t be too shocking. You might get a bit flustered reading it, red in the face. It depends on what imagination you have. It’s definitely graphic, but I don’t think you’d use it as a sex aid. That’s a compliment to my husband.”