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Fifty shades of naughty

Fifty Shades of Grey has become a global bestseller. And Indians aren’t immune to the trilogy either. Caroline Newbury of Random House India (which is distributing the book here) claims that 1,00,000 books have already been sold in just two months and “we are going for a reprint”.

brunch Updated: Jul 13, 2012 17:48 IST
Parul Khanna Tewari
Parul Khanna Tewari
Hindustan Times

Rich, gorgeous man pursues ordinary college girl, has rough sex with her, and then some more. He gives her cars, flies her around in his chopper, ties her up, whips her, applies balm to her sore skin, makes sure she doesn’t waste food on her plate – in short, takes over her body and her life.

This is the basic plot of the Fifty Shades trilogy, the worldwide bestseller by British writer EL James, which began as fan fiction of the Twilight vampire series. Rumour has it that Fifty Shades was James’ revenge for Edward and Bella not having enough sex in Twilight.

Big in India

The book has become a global bestseller. And Indians aren’t immune to the trilogy either. Caroline Newbury of Random House India (which is distributing the book here) claims that 1,00,000 books have already been sold in just two months and “we are going for a reprint”.

Online shopping portal Flipkart reports that the book is doing exceptionally well. “We’ve had 5,000 orders in the last 90 days which is remarkable for a debut author,” says Ankit Nagori, vice president of retail at Flipkart. Om Book Shop in Noida says it is the “most picked up book”.

Clearly Indian readers aren’t squeamish about the liberal doses of sexy sex. “No!” exclaims 28-year-old freelance writer Khushboo. “It’s hardly something we don’t know about.”

EL James is the author of the current international bestselling Fifty Shades Of Grey trilogy, which has sold 20 million copies (and counting) globally. Ms James is now (naturally) a millionaire.

Bad writing?

Critics and discerning readers are aghast at James’s success: The writing is so ordinary. The story is so meh. And so on. Littered with phrases like “I have never felt this way about anyone” and “my hormones are racing,” the trilogy is going through a ‘Chetan Bhagat’ moment with critics dissing its pedestrian writing.

Author Shinie Antony says royalties are all that’s hot about Fifty Shades of Grey. “Christian Grey [the protagonist] is fifty shades fu***d up. By harping on his boomerang libido and Ana’s food and baths, after a point, the book reads like one page with PTO written on both sides.” But Priya Kapoor, director at Roli Books, says that her friends find the book exciting. “EL James didn’t intend sending the book for the Pulitzer. So what’s the hoopla all about?” Adds author Jaishree Misra, “The writing is accessible and that gets readers.”

Why the craze?

Every bestseller baffles publishers. Fifty Shades is no different. But a post-mortem provides some clues:

Erotica in the mainstream:

Not many writers in mainstream fiction have explored erotica and BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism). ‘Mainstreaming’ the theme was a clever ploy by the publishers, Vintage Books. “Fifty Shades had its proper book releases, got reviews in mainstream newspapers. Built to be a brand, it managed to titillate people’s curiosity,” says Hachette India managing editor Poulomi Chatterjee.

Bondage, Discipline, Sadism and Masochism: Sex that includes consensual restraint, fantasy power role play, light bondage, hot wax and blindfolds. The doers are called dominants and the recipients, submissives.

The big escape:

Women are wearing eight-inch heels? Blame it on the economic crisis. People are having bad sex lives? Blame it on the economy. Everything in the world is a result of our economic crisis. So why not the success of Fifty Shades? Misra says that the book lifted a general mood of despondency (the result of the worldwide recession). “I think it was a cheap way of getting some thrills. The book doesn’t cost much. It is exciting. After a long day at a low-paying job [or no job], this book provided the great escape.”

Fuelling controversy:

Anything that has the potential to become a drawing room conversation has it made. Fifty Shades kicked off a worldwide debate about gender roles, romance, bestsellers and porn. Its popularity with women of a certain age has got critics to call it ‘mommy porn’. But the book has younger female readers too. And many fans feel that the book is a celebration of women’s sexual desires.

Feeding stereotypes:

The hero is classic Mills & Boon. He is a jet-setting billionaire, has a dark past and is ruthless and tender in turn. Says columnist Sanjay Sipahimalani: “Byronic heroes – moody, magnetic, mysterious – have been around since Victorian times. However, it’s dismaying that today’s women seem to find an arrogant and dominating male character irresistible.” The gender roles are clichéd too. “I wonder if the book would have worked, had the roles been reversed,” says author Advaita Kala. Of course not.

From HT Brunch, July 15

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First Published: Jul 12, 2012 19:41 IST