Fifty Shades of Grey by Kathy Dunwell

I never really understood what the big deal is about the series, Fifty Shades. I will put it out there now that I’ve never read the books but I have read sufficient reviews and comments on Tumblr, Amazon and Play.com to get a pretty good idea about what it entails and, though I’m not usually easily persuaded how I may feel about it, I’m sure you have come to a conclusion by now too.

The first thing that bugs me about the series is the author. EL James. First off, she used a pseudonym rather than her real name. I mean, who does that? Her real name is Erika Leonard (in other words the “EL” bit) so why didn’t she just use that in the first place? Probably because she wanted to shield her two children from the fact that their mother wrote these naughty books.

Well, bad luck, Erika – these books have been read by more people than there are starving in Africa, set the record for the fastest-selling paperback of all-time, thereby surpassing the entire Harry Potter series (which, as of June 2011, has sold more than 450 million copies worldwide). You’re not going to be able to keep this one quiet; I really feel for your poor kids.

Any child – any at all – who has a parent who’s written a bestseller would surely be curious about what the book/books contain. And they’ll sure as hell get enough jip from their peers at school about it. Just look at JK Rowling’s children. Do you think they enjoy living in the gigantic shadow that Jo casts on them? Do you think they enjoy being known as JK Rowling’s children, being noticed on the street whenever they go out while their mother is in America promoting her new book? I doubt it.

I appreciate that even in this day and age, female writers are still scrutinised for being just that, female writers. The Brontë sisters had to change their names completely just to get published because women used to be seen as just the housewife – only good for cooking and cleaning, keeping the house tidy – never an author or a writer. That was always a man’s job.

But it still shouldn’t mean that women should feel that they have to use a pseudonym every time they write a novel. I want to become a writer myself and when that day comes that I have my first book published, I will have my actual name on the sleeve and, in effect, stick two fingers up to the reviewers and critics and say, “You don’t like my work just for the fact that I’m a woman? Well, you can clear off.”

EL James is a forty-something-year-old woman who admitted she was in the thick of her midlife crisis, who read the Twilight series, wrote fan fiction for it under the pen name “Snowqueens Icedragon”, developed it into her own style with her wild erotic fantasies and got it published, making it a worldwide bestseller. I could understand a young author of about 25 doing erotica; let’s face it, anyone with a Tumblr account is horny pretty much the whole time but a forty-something-year-old wife and a mother of two? No thank you, I’ll stick to Tumblr.

Secondly, the hype about these books. As I’ve said before, I haven’t read them so I don’t understand the commotion about it at all. But awkwardly enough, someone close to me has. When searching for some new books for my Kindle, I decided to actually look these books up and see whether they were worth my time.

My mum came into the room, looked over my shoulder (as she would because all mums are curious as to this type of stuff) and told me to go away for a bit while she thought whether they were suitable enough for me to read. She called me back a few moments later, almost blue in the face as she restrained herself from bursting into laughter and directed my vision towards the reviews.

I quickly skim-read a lot of them, same old routine. “This was rubbish”, “Don’t waste your time”, “Don’t even bother”. Etc, etc, etc. But surprisingly enough (or unsurprisingly if you’ve read them and found they’re a piece of brilliance rather than bullshit) there are more positive reviews with 5 stars (1,348) compared to those who thought it was crap (932). There were 690 reviews that were in between but the majority of reviewers on Amazon were split between the opinions that it’s either entirely stupid and a waste of time and money or that it was a piece of sheer excellence that should be treasured for all eternity.

But anyway, back to the story. Mum was close to falling off the study chair and said (and I quote): “I’d rather pay to read the reviews rather than the actual books”, which made me smile. My own mother practically said that she wouldn’t touch these books or go near them with a ten-foot pole. Unfortunately, this was not what I came to understand.

A couple of weeks later, lo-and-behold, my own mother – who said she’d rather pay for the reviews than the books – was reading the first book. Cue look of horror on my face. Generally, when my mum says she wouldn’t go near something in a million years, she means it… unless curiosity gets the better of her like in this instance. My mum was reading a series that I had come to hate but I allowed her to go ahead and read them as she sped through the first two books, Fifty Shades of Grey and Fifty Shades Darker, before I could barely blink (and she’s finished Fifty Shades Freed, the final instalment a few weeks ago) and seemed to enjoy them all. I still, to this day, don’t know why.

I may just be biased towards it from what I’ve heard/read but I really don’t understand the commotion about it. I cannot, for the life of me, even begin to think how a forty-something-year-old woman could become a bestseller for a series of pathetically erotic novels so fast. I mean, I want to be an author myself but using my own dark desires as a foundation for a fan fiction? Or even a novel? I’d never do something like that.

The Fifty Shades series will forever be my marmite. Some people will love it, some will hate it. I’m on the side that hates it for now and I don’t know whether I’ll ever switch sides. There’d better be something about this series that gets me hooked, otherwise I’ll be on the hating side for the rest of my life even when the commotion dies down.

Can we just leave it at that and move on?