Monday 20 November 2017

Don't laugh ... 'Mommy Porn' hits the spot

As you will have gathered from coverage in these pages recently, black and blue seems to be the new black for Irish women. The steamy Fifty Shades Of Grey bondage and S&M novel, which is already an international hit, has turned into a surprise bestseller in Ireland.

Dubbed 'Mommy Porn' by the New York Times, the book is high on both the Eason bestseller chart and the Nielsen Bookscan chart for Ireland.

With the exception of the Hunger Games books, which have been dominating both charts after the release of the movie, Fifty Shades Of Grey has been the bestselling book in Ireland in recent weeks.

Last week it was again number one on the Nielsen Paperback Fiction chart for Ireland.

The novel features the dominant-submissive relationship between 21-year-old university graduate Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, a rich but tortured tycoon in his late 20s. Abused as a child, he is obsessed with control.

She agrees to allow him to subjugate her, which includes her being blindfolded, spanked and whipped with a riding crop -- among other kinky sex routines not usually discussed in a family newspaper.

Described as a cross between a Mills & Boon romance novels and 9 1/2 Weeks, the book appears to have opened the door to a new wave of erotic literature aimed at women.

This has been facilitated by e-readers and downloading from sites like Amazon, which allow an erotic book like Fifty Shades to be read in private, even in a public place.

With an e-reader, like the Kindle, there is no book cover visible to reveal what someone is reading on the bus or the train and that is boosting sales.

The theory is supported by the figures. As well as being high on the print charts, Fifty Shades is currently number one in the Irish iBookstore chart and number one in the Kindle chart (which includes both UK and Irish sales).

Experts in the book trade are saying that most of the readers here, like in the UK and the US, are women.

The books are the work of Erika James, a London mother of two teenage sons who has been happily married for 20 years and is a former TV producer (she was interviewed in these pages recently by Edel Coffey and came across as surprisingly normal).

She started what is now the Fifty Shades trilogy as online fan fiction, inspired by the main characters in the Twilight books.

As in the Twilight series, Fifty Shades is set mainly in Seattle, Washington, but Bella and Edward are reimagined as a young college-graduate virgin and a billionaire with secret sexual predilections.

It's also reminiscent of Pretty Woman, but with the addition of cuffs and whips. It's another fantasy about a rich but troubled man sweeping an innocent young beauty off her feet.

And like in Mills & Boon, beneath the hero's domineering veneer there is a vulnerability that only she can reach.

Initially available as e-books or print-on-demand books, the series proved wildly popular and was soon picked up by mainstream publishers.

Currently sales in the UK and US are breaking records. Two weeks ago Universal Pictures won a bidding war for the film rights, paying $5m (€3.86m).

The success of the books has been a surprise given that they can be seen as the polar opposite of everything that feminism has achieved.

Other commentators have suggested they are evidence of a new level of liberation among women. Meanwhile, the critics have been having a field day exposing the poor quality of the writing, which in places makes Mills & Boon seem like Shakespeare.

Some of the more laughable stuff cannot be quoted here but the following lines give some idea of the level: "Suddenly, he sits up and tugs my panties off and throws them on the floor. Pulling off his boxer briefs, his erection springs free. Holy cow! . . . He kneels up and pulls a condom on to his considerable length. Oh no . . . Will it? How?"

Early on, Christian Grey comes out with the immortal line: "I'd really like to claim your ass."

Some of the naughtiest stuff takes place in the "Red Room of Pain" in Christian Grey's mansion. But it's hard to take seriously when Anastasia exclaims things like "Holy Crap!" or "Holy Shit!" or even "Holy Moses!" at the appropriate moments.

Maybe the unintentional hilarity explains the extraordinary level of sales.

The three books in the trilogy -- Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed -- are published by Arrow Books at €8.99 and are available from Eason and other booksellers.

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