Fifty Goes To France

Cover for The Story of O DVD, courtesy of Google Images




This morning, The Guardian’s International page had some interesting newsy tidbits. France is abandoning plans for wealth tax on artworks, Johnny Depp is moving into publishing with his own imprint for Harper Collins…

But seeing as this is a a sex blog, written by an erotica author, my eyes immediately fell on the picture of E.L. James and the news that Fifty Shades of Grey had hit the French shelves. And, in true French style, the reaction has been a bit… bof.

The French have a history with the erotica genre, and it is one featuring noted luminaries such as Marquis De Sade and Anaïs Nin. Anne Leclos’s seminal The Story of O is even getting a re-release this week. The French are good at erotica, and they are very pleased with it. As they should be. They are the heavyweights of erotic literature and the legacy that books such as Delta of Venus and Justine have spawned continues to influence many authors to this day. Heck, Sade, a French aristocrat and noted libertine, is the man whose last name spawned the words “sadism” and “sadist”. It is safe to say that they know what they’re talking about.

It is therefore not so surprising that our Gallic neighbors have not taken kindly to the adventures of Anastasia Steele. The reviewers have mauled it to shreds, stating that is lacks the flavor and philosophy of Sade’s works. Les Inrocks calls it “sadomasochism light – and flavorless”, full of “insignificant, consensual and clichéd content” and “fantasies of a cheap sex-shop”.

Many a French critic has called it a book without any literary value, which contains none of the philosophy of the relationship between master and slave.

Everyone says it’s not literature, which is true, but we are promoting it as the story of love like you’ve never read it before For the first time, this is a book that’s erotic but also about love. Previous books have had the eroticism but have been rather brutal, but this is a love story.

It’s a bit hot in places, but it’s not perverse, and the heroine is not a victim.

Thus spoke Isabelle Lafont, a spokeswoman for the Parisian publisher of the novel.

The point in me mentioning this is that Lafont’s statement (and the entire situation itself) once again rips open the discussions about this book.

On the one hand, we have the debate about literature and erotica. What is considered literature? Does erotica qualify under these standards? And is this really the first book where eroticism and love have meshed into a storyline?

On the other hand, we have the debate about how BDSM is depicted in the novel. Is it really BDSM? Is the character of Christian not just playing dangerous mind games with the young Anastasia? Is she really not a victim of his manipulations?

There are many other questions, of course. Which goes to show that the hubbub around what E.L. herself calls “her midlife crisis writ large” is not dying down anytime soon. A film is in the works as we speak, with Ryan Gosling tauted to play the young tycoon with the grey eyes.

Having furiously ranted about this book in the past few months, I have shaped my opinion. On the one hand, I did not care for this book one bit. I struggled to make it through, and eventually caved after chapter three. I watched my Twitter timeline fill up with peers and friends who were in an uphill battle with the books. I was furious at the media coverage. I wanted to see this book dead and gone.

But on the other hand, like it or not, people are buying erotica. Authors are getting swanky re-releases, and I feel my heart warm whenever I see a wonderful person like Portia Da Costa or Tiffany Reisz in the charts at WH Smith. Erotica is hitting the ground running. People are opening up about sex. Fifty Shades has sparked something in our collective consciousness.

I still don’t like the book. But as a writer, I feel like I can breathe now. There is a place in the mainstream for my chosen genre. And surely, that can’t be a bad thing, can it now?

If you would like to debate on any of the issues raised in this post, please feel free to comment and vent. My comment box is open.


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