Firstly, it made me use the word "bonkbuster". That alone makes me angry for immediately honing into the gutter-press style of dialogue this book elicits in the most languid of writers looking for an opener.
Next, before I start banging on about the lame mono-plot, the repeated use of fireworks as a metaphor for the female climax or the searing annoyance of reading a book touted as a tome full to bursting with bondage and sexual power-play only to discover that there was absolutely none of either in the whole damn show, let me congratulate E.L. James on getting the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy published in its final incarnation at all.
In its first guise the story was internet-published fan fiction based on Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewarts Twilight characters. From there, following objections to the overtly sexual nature of the story, James removed it from Twilight fan fiction websites, rechristened the main protagonists and rewrote the trilogy.
Who knows whether James had any idea of the imminent success of the story? For my part, I doubt she had even an inkling of what was in store. The stories are works of basic erotic fiction: centred entirely on the two main characters, with no sub-plot, revealing little of their lives outside their immediate situation. It's the type of writing produced effortlessly by jobbing erotica writers since time immemorial with little or no aspiration to any great publishing success. It's horny pap, designed to induce satiation via the horniest muscle of them all.
That it's ascended thus far is incredible. That James need never write another word elicits the kind of grudging respect slowly turning me from incredulously puce to enviously emerald. Lady, here's to you (raises glass of something that Christian Grey would undoubtedly deem undrinkable).
Now, to the story itself. I write only, here, of the first of the trilogy: Fifty Shades of Grey. I happened upon it among the paperbacks available in the "leave one, take one" honesty-box library of my holiday villa. I love discovering books this way: their spines bent back, the glue rendered almost desiccated by the mediterranean sun and the ghosts of holidaymakers past evident in greasy, sun-creamed fingerprints.
I'm gonna read it, I said to myself in mock-horror, any pretence of literary pretension swept under the sun lounger (I've had Gorbachev's memoirs in my bookcase for around twenty years and never managed to get past the introduction, and my father has finally given up thrusting Proust in my general direction).
I scurried past the first thirty pages, recalling from my earliest forays into Riders and Hollywood Wives that the sex doesn't really get started until around that point. Shame on me. I felt like a nasty little cheater. If I was to have anything pertinent to say about Fifty Shades of Grey, I should at least have the decency to read it properly.
So I went back to the beginning.
My first complaint came early. Here's our heroine, Anastasia, she could have two heads for all we know such is the lack of descriptive content about her. Perhaps I was missing the point and, maybe, in deigning to eliminate her visually, James is reducing Anastasia to the base elements required for her part in the story: a mere bucket of sexual organs.
As for the penis at the party, it's suggested that Christian Grey is a man of such dashing good-looks that women melt into sickening puddles of moosh at the mere sight of him. Well, I can't say much about that either. For me, at least, how attractive a person may or may not be hinges on slightly more than them having "copper coloured hair" (although, admittedly, a touch of the ginge is a good starting point) and prominent hip bones: a line repeated to such an extent that I ended up visualising him as Lily Cole - all jutting and strutting.
So, these two, largely faceless, characters talk to each other. Or rather they're doing something closely approximating conversation, but never really managing to say anything of any real value or purpose. This is where it became obvious that James was still thinking about both characters in their first incarnation as Pattinson and Stewart and keeping tight reins on the dialogue with a filmic quality in mind.
It doesn't work for a novel. The language employed is stilted and awkward to the point of embarrassment - it seems, even though they've only just met and are about to embark on the most intense relationship imaginable, they haven't got anything to say to one another. It's rootless, connectionless and floats aimlessly from one (apparently) wise-ass comment to the next. I can think of only one successful deployment of similar language from one medium to another: the Mike Nichols adaptation of Patrick Marber's "Closer". This play-t0-film whicked away any hint of thespian pretension by use of fully-rounded, empathy-building characterisation - something that Fifty Shades is missing right from the start.
Next, we come to the sex (by this point, I was ready to throw the book into the swimming pool and happily watch it drown). Keen as I am to nose into the folds of anything deemed perverse, I was hoping for a spot of intense scrutiny regarding the politics of power exchange relationships. Fat chance. As lacking as James had been in describing the physicality of either character, she REALLY went to town with the metaphors as they got down to business with barely a passing nod to the dastardly motivations of Mr Hip Bones or the emotional requirements of Anastasia.
Along with the jutting and strutting, he was now going for all-out rutting. On their first sexual encounter, this pair made glossy Hollywood porn seem deep and meaningful. I'm pretty sure I snorted with outright derision as Anastasia, up to that point a virgin with zero experience, delivered a deep-throat blow job to do Jenna Jameson proud. Mr Hip Bones exclaimed surprise at her lack of gag reflex. He wasn't the only one.
And this is where Fifty Shades began to unravel as quickly as the slipknots that didn't even feature in a book purported to overflow with bondage. Mr Hip Bones shows Anastasia his "red room of pain". If there were any more cliches stuffed into that particular chapter it would have been at the expense of leaving the only other chapter in which it were briefly mentioned devoid of its own tick-box quotient of banal bondage buzzwords.
I must admit to speed-reading large sections in an attempt to claw back some of the precious holiday time I felt robbed of. By the time I reached the end Mr Hip Bones had essentially turned from the swaggering all-consuming dom to a hen-pecked, nag-frazzled depressive and Anastasia had morphed from a virginal and oh-so-kookily-clumsy college gal into the kind of demanding, whinging trout I wanted to ball-gag and wallop heartily with a gigantic leather paddle - which would at least serve to increase the actual BDSM content one hundredfold.
In summation, dear reader, I bid you at your peril to see what you can extract from this measly exploration of a dysfunctional relationship between an emotionally unavailable copper-top with a vague pretence at a superiority complex and a dull whiner who should really have started off her sexual explorations by way of a quick fingering from the college jock on prom night.
Or, you could dispense with such a chore and instead read the excellent How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran: a treasure offered up by the holiday villa honesty library which held me rapt in its truthful simplicity and made me sad when the end came all too soon.