Why We're Suddenly Lusting After Sex Novels

Remember the novel The Bride Stripped Bare? It was Nikki Gemmell' literary tour de force, originally published under the nom de plume 'Anonymous' because its chapters were too scandalous for the author to admit to.

Bride was a huge bestseller. Huge. Women read it under their duvet covers. Men read it on commuter trains, where they hid it behind a big hard Hemingway hardback. Even grandmothers were seen sneaking into libraries and borrowing it out with their copies of Danielle Steel. It was dubbed as "an intelligent and accomplished exploration of female sexuality". Exploration was right. There was a scene with taxi drivers that was so revelatory, it made me question what cabbies do when they're not, er, picking up rides.

Basically, the plot is about a lonely housewife with a desultory sex life. The new hubbie is lovely, but boring. And his bed skills are less than satisfactory. That's the thing when you marry Boy-Next-Door types. You sacrifice the erotic for the safe; the dangerous risk-taker for the trustworthy do-gooder. Anyhow, The Housewife grows bored with vanilla sex and sets out to find something pulsier. That's when she meets The Spanish Guy Who's Still A Virgin. (There's an oxymoron right there). From then on, she proceeds to educate him  in – you guessed it – the art of pleasure. To use a ladylike word. There are hotel rooms, orgies, taxi drivers and what one critic described as "erotic, Houellebecqean-style encounters". (I'm not sure what that means but I think I'll have some if they're on special, thanks.)

Now I have to confess that I liked the book. I did. It was entertaining. Fresh. And clever. (Although I still can't look taxi drivers in the eye.)

Basically the novel was a watered-down Catherine Millet. Sex for respectable readers, if you like. And because of it, the book sold hundreds of thousands of copies. It also spawned a whole new genre. Whose name I won't reveal here. (Just think of the nickname for knee-high boots and then insert 'books' where the word 'boots' should go.)

Unbelievably, it's been 9 years since Bride was published, and even more curiously, it's been a while since a good, old-fashioned sex novel hit the bookshelves. So it was only a matter of time before one was thrust into the bestseller lists. So to speak.

Enter Fifty Shades of Grey. Written by E.L. James,  this book is everywhere at the moment. EVERYWHERE. If you haven't seen it advertised, you've perhaps been hiding under that 1000-thread-count sheet too long. Tantilized by the marketing I bought a copy on the weekend. I read 252 pages in one evening. The prose was so dense though, that at 2AM I had to put it down and go find a Nurofen.

The writing isn't on a level with F.Scott Fitzgerald – it's probably not even on a par with Playboy. In fact, some of the sentences are so breathy and overwrought, it made me feel 16 years old again. Also, if you're going to write a book about sex – an adult books about sex – for goodness sakes use some proper words. Using the word 'sex' for a woman's private parts is about as amateurish as you can get.  I mean, we're no longer eight years old. I think we can handle a dirty word or two.

In saying this, it's interesting that this book has caused such a storm. Like Bride, it's hit a nerve with women everywhere. Female readers are devouring it, and only coming up for air when they've turned the last page. It says a lot for the sad state of our collective sex lives that we have to get our kicks from literature rather than real life!

The thing is, I like a good debate. And I love it when literature prompts it. I'm particularly excited that the current debate is over sex, and how much it really does mean to women. But what I don't get excited about, so to speak, is a book where the main female protagonist is forced to be submissive. I know it's a fantasy of many, but this book takes it a whole new level. And it's not one I care to go down to.

I finished the book dear readers, but only just. And then I had to go and have a cold shower. Not to calm the palpitating heart, but to feel clean and 'normal' again. Fifty Shades of Grey is certainly grey. In fact, it's as grubby as a dirty, thumb-stained girlie magazine in the communal toilets of an all-boys' boarding school.

There are apparently two more books in the Grey series. But I think I'll pass thanks. If you've read it, do drop me a line to let me know what you thought. I'd be interested to hear!

{Images of brides stripping bare by by Renam Christofoletti for Vogue Brazil Brides}

No comments:

Post a Comment