Review: Fifty Shades of Grey, by Barbara Gayton, HMP Askham Grange

gates-of-ytanSo? Have you read it yet? No need to ask what: it’s the book that everybody has been talking about. People who don’t usually read are hooked, unable to put it down. Reading it allows entry to an exclusive club: those who have read the book, not just those who have read about it.

Read by teens and twenties, by middle-aged ladies and by grannies. And it’s not just women. Men too want to see what all the fuss is about. Set the timer at the Book Club and see how long it takes before somebody mentions it: it won’t take long. Seldom does a book gain such a hold on the public imagination.

And to the dismay of literary types, to the disgust of wordsmiths, the book is acknowledged to be badly written. So why should it have sold so many copies? If everybody knows that the Emperor’s new clothes are only an illusion, then why should they choose to pay for them? What is the attraction? What makes this book like catnip, so that once you’re snared, you’re powerless to resist its allure? What is it that makes people want to read this book?

No doubt it is curiosity at the beginning. But at some point the characters which start off as two dimensional begin to gain depth until the reader starts to care about them. And that surely is the key to any good book, whether it be a Man Booker prize winner or the latest populist novel. The hype can lure us in but it is our connection to the characters, the fact that we care about them and need to know what happens next, that keeps us reading until the end.

For me, the fascination with “Fifty Shades” is not just how many copies it has sold, or even how clever has been the marketing. It is the fact that within the prison population there are many women who have declared themselves to be non-readers and yet have devoured the pages of this novel. And then returned to the library asking for more books, for recommendations. Even asking to borrow “Tess of the D’Urbevilles” (which is mentioned in “Fifty Shades”) which they had been forced to read at school but now choose to re-read.

And when the last page of a novel is turned we should feel bereft. In many ways like spending an intense weekend with a lover: you feel better for having spent the time together, you’re sorry to see them go, and yet so very relieved to have your life back again.

Then take a deep breath, visit your local library or bookshop, and start scanning the shelves, like a desperate speed dater, to choose your book-date for the next weekend of literary hedonism. Never underestimate the power of the written word.

Read the whole of The Gates of Ytan



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