Fifty shades of boredom

July 15, 2012

Photo: John Wesley Ireland

I’m not very good at sex. Wait . . . let me rephrase that: I’m not very good at writing about sex.

I have completed two novels and great chunks of two others. In those pages you’ll find well-rounded characters and witty dialogue and rousing adventure. You will not find much in the way of graphic intimacy. A few meaningful glances followed by clothes slipping to the floor followed by . . . fade to black.

As a writer, I believe sex, like toilet breaks, should happen off the page, which probably explains why I’ve sold several million fewer copies than EL James.

Unless you’ve had your head buried in a honey cave lately, you’ll know Ms James is the author of the Fifty Shades trilogy. And if you think a better title would be Filthy Shades, congratulations, you just read my mind.

I’m no prude – far from it. My copy of Rosemary’s Baby used to fall open of its own accord at the sex scene. But that was two paragraphs, as opposed to every second paragraph in the Fifty Shades collection.

Is there a plot lurking amidst all the pounding? Not that I’ve heard. One reader told me she was nearly finished the third book before any kind of story arc revealed itself. And the characters? Cardboard cutouts have more personality. The writing itself? Splendid, she noted, but only if you consider it high literature to have your lead character gasp “Holy cow” or “Oh my” at regular intervals.

The reader in question is, of course, Viking Woman. Her gender is the target audience for these books, which are a sordid example of a new genre dubbed ‘mummy porn’. (Note there is no such thing as ‘daddy porn’. Why would men strain their eyes reading about shenanigans when the internet is filled with such pretty pictures?)

EL James has not re-invented the wheel by any stretch of the imagination. She has simply wrapped it in leather, slapped it into submission and left readers panting for more. All while dropping more F-bombs than you’d hear at a wharfie convention.

Like The Da Vinci Code and the Millennium trilogy, the Fifty Shades books have ridden a tidal wave of media hysteria all the way to the top of the bestseller lists. People are reading them not so much because they want to (one lady said the books bored her silly; another said she only read the sex scenes, and then only sparingly) but because everyone else seems to be doing it. It’s the lemming effect and if I knew how it worked, I’d buy a jar and spread it all over my books. And then myself.

In the meantime, all I can do is try to take advantage of the phenomenon as best I can. If the Good Wife is reading about all that huffing and puffing, then surely she must be open to suggestion.

What I lack in the way of Christian Grey’s money and allure I more than make up for in movie trivia. Think about it – is there anything more erotic than the food-sex scene from Nine 1/2 Weeks? Not only did it practically melt cinema screens at the time, but it is incredibly easy to replicate.

And so one night recently, after emptying the fridge of its most mouth-watering contents, I appeared in the bedroom doorway wearing little more than a look of anticipation.

Only to find Viking Woman’s copy of Fifty Shades Freed lying splayed on the floor where it had fallen, and Viking Woman herself sound asleep with the lights on. Leaving me standing there holding my sausage roll.

There was nothing for it then but to return to the kitchen and, since the food was already out, indulge in a quick snack. My wife may be reading mummy porn, but the only thing I’m gettin’ is fat. Oh my, indeed.

A version of this column was originally printed in the July 11, 2012 Napier (NZ) Courier.

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