NOBODY CAN SAY I didn’t hold out for as long as I could. Eventually, though, what’s the point? If you can’t beat them, oh – that’s the point, you have to beat them. This week, I finally succumbed to the lure of Fifty Shades of Grey, so very much more to assuage my feelings of fraudulence during conversations about it than to get my freak on. Those conversations, by the way, have now polarised: in the one corner, those who greet sceptics with accusations of snobbery, of attempting to circumscribe women’s desires, and of failing to cheer a shot in the arm to a moribund bookselling industry; in the other, those who wonder why women are queuing up to read a series of inexpertly described soft-porn scenarios in which one of their sisters allows herself to be abused.
My approach is, therefore, simply to describe the first half of the first volume of the Fifty Shades trilogy in as-it-happened reactions, unadorned by ideology or preconception, snootiness and, quite definitely, jealousy that someone else should have had the idea first. Here goes:
Chapter 1: Wow, it’s started already! The narrator’s trying to bring her hair “under control with the brush.” I’ll bet that’s not all that’s going to be brought under control, missy. Anyway, first thoughts: you’re nicer than me. I wouldn’t go and interview a mega-successful hot-shot businessman for my flatmate just because she had a sniffle. Also, I probably wouldn’t wear navy with brown. But there we are. It takes all sorts, which is why you shouldn’t automatically label Christian Grey an arrogant fucker, simply because he is really, really important and thinks there’s no such thing as luck and stays in control ALL THE TIME (get it? ALL the TIME). Give him a break already! Plus: “‘Are you gay, Mr Grey?’” Like it’s any of your business! Rude, rude. I’m backing this guy.
Chapter 2: Oh, I see. I see. You don’t like him, but you think you might “like” him. Got it. I’d get out of that habit, if I were you. It makes for a very difficult life. Though right now, you seem to be using it as an excuse for speeding. I’m kind of wondering about your judgment all round, I must say: I don’t think now’s the time to be reading Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Or turning your nose up at suitors like Jose, who come to the front door with champagne. HANG ON. HOLD THE BUS. Christian Grey’s turned up in the DIY store you work in to buy ropes? Aaargh! It’s the 80s again! Mickey Rourke’s sampling riding crops with Kim Basinger! Not that you’d get the reference, “Anastasia.”
Chapter 3: Right, dimwit. He likes to be “IN CONTROL” and he’s been buying rope. Even I get it. Now he wants to be “photographed”. Who knows? Perhaps if he marched up and down the aisles of the DIY store naked with a sign saying “I HEART PERVERTS” the penny would drop.
Oh, OK: I didn’t give you enough credit. You’ve pulled the old “throw yourself to the floor to get into someone’s pants” trick. Cool. Sorry.
Chapter 4: “Kiss me damn it!” You tell him. I’m coming round to your way of thinking now. Yeah, yeah, I know he’s playing hard to get. Don’t worry about it. You concentrate on your exams. I’ll concentrate on figuring out why your student mate has a Mercedes. Before you know it, a box of first editions of Tess of the D’Urbervilles will have arrived from a mysterious stranger… you know who-oo! If I were you, I’d flog them, but we both know I’m a little more savvy than you are. I certainly wouldn’t get shit-faced and ring up a prospective lover. Well. I would. But I wouldn’t tell anyone about it.
Chapter 5: Brilliant! It’s the “waking up in a guy’s hotel room and wondering whether you had sex last night” scene, essentially implausible unless you’ve been drugged, which is illegal. I’m thinking you probably didn’t. By the way, I LOVE the mention of “fancy European lingerie;” it’s so evocative of a geo-culturally specific sensuality that no longer exists. Now: back to the action. As far as I understand it, he wants to do it, but you have to sign some sort of contract. Uh-oh. Last time I did that I ended up with no eyebrows and an extraordinarily detailed knowledge of the inline skating scene. Still: at least you’re going to be taken to sign away all your rights in a private helicopter. By an obvious lunatic.
Chapter 6: Can I just point something out? You know how old mega-tycoon-turned-sadist starts playing you the “Flower Duet” from Lakmé? Well, before that was on an ad for British Airways or laundry liquid or something, it was used in the sexy vampire film The Hunger, when Catherine Deneuve wants to get it on with Susan Sarandon. Just be warned, “Anastasia.” Mind you, he also likes The Kings of Leon, FFS. Now, try and build on that snog in the lift, if you can. Though not while you’re in the chopper. As it were.
Phew! I’m quite a long way in now (sorry), and it’s taken a while to get to this bit: “Firstly, I don’t make love. I fuck… hard.” It’s not exactly The Story of O, but I guess it’s something.
Chapter 7: Crikey! Handcuffs. Chains. Shackles. Canes. Rules. Cheese. Cheese? Oh, yeah. Cheese.
Chapter 8: Why did you tell him you were a virgin? Why is he so freaked out? Oh I see. He thinks you might take a bit longer to get into the groove. So he’s going to do you gently, at first. I told you! He’s a good guy. And blimey, what a stroke of luck that the first man you sleep with brings you so easily to genital climax three times. Nice one!
Chapter 9: I know: they all look sweet when they’re asleep. And making breakfast is a nice touch, though I’m not sure asking where the place-mats are is perfect post-coital conversation (unless it’s code. Is it code?). You know what? I’ve had a sudden thought: shouldn’t you be at work at the hardware store? Oh well, I suppose if a billionaire wanted me to blow him in the bath I might skip work. Though I’d have thought twice if I knew his mother was going to show up. Man!
Chapter 10: Oh. That went surprisingly well, mother-wise. I predict troubles down the line, though. Also: what is the deal with him making you want to eat all the time? Also: lose that nosy flatmate. You’re a sex-lunatic’s submissive now, you can’t do girly chats over home pedicures.
Chapter 11: And for God’s sake, don’t show her the “Contract.” It’s really unsexy, apart from anything else. And those are deeply, deeply unimaginative safewords, Mr. so-called Kinky. Incidentally, E.L. James: when you have a delivery man explain that a MacBook Pro isn’t yet available in the shops, you really do date what is otherwise an utterly timeless tale of power and passion. But of course it does open up the cringing horror of smutty email exchanges.
Chapter 12: Ooh, ooh, ooh! It’s your first row! It may have come a little early in the proceedings, but perhaps it’s best to get these things out of the way. Though that’s the problem with Dominants, of course, you can never take anything at face value. I was fooled: I thought you were really hacked off with each other and now you’re talking about nipple clamps. The make-up sex is arriving impressively fast, I must say.
Chapter 13: OMG: the halfway mark. I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted. I need a few moments to gather my thoughts, fan my flushed neck and have some ginseng tea. One last push, though. One. Last. Push. Oh, Christ. They’re eating oysters. And asparagus stalks. And cod. Wait: cod? OK. Cod. But, “Anastasia,” I think you’re right to cut and run before dessert. Leave ’em wanting more. That’s what Christian Grey and I say.
NEXT WEEK: In which “Anastasia” (incidentally, it’s the character’s actual name, but I think the quotation marks make her more mysterious. Also: he likes to call her “Ana”; I think we all know why) realises that it’s quite hard to type with your hands tied. Meanwhile, E.L. James realises that old rope is the bestest rope of them all.