Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

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}


  1. I haven't read the bride stripped bare but I did read a Round Heeled Woman by Jane Juska...not explicit but delicious. because I had been seen reading it, when Top finished his year as President of the rotary club, the next P's wife gave me the Mary Moody books because she thought I liked sexy books!!!!!!!
    Don't think I will bother with the grey series if you had to have a shower!!!!!!!

  2. I haven't read this book but loved your review..And the accompanying photos. Beautiful Carla

  3. Last of these books type of books I read were the Emmanuaelle series hen I was at school although like Jules I have read one of Jane Juska's books - the sequel to A Round Heeled Woman which I have to say I enjoyed. I am now curious about this Fifty Shades of Grey! Shall I read it I wonder.. ? If I do I will let you know my thoughts. Loved your review. Sarah x

  4. Hmm...good review. I always thought Judith Krantz did a pretty good job with sex. Scruples was a double-whammy for women, sex and shopping in one book. -N.G.

  5. I just don't get this genre! It doesn't interest me in the slightest. Perhaps in 20 years it will....I'm probably not the target market (mid 20s)....but still. I don't see the attraction. I'd rather turn to a real life man for sexy times than a book!

    P.s. I'm still reading but have been travelling Europe for the past few weeks (loving it...but soooo ready to come home)

  6. Right that's it, I'm off to get down & dirty & write a heap of these! I don't give a toss that they won't win a Miles Franklin, all I want is my Super topped up nicely. The look on the kids faces when I pull into the driveway in my new Aston Martin bought with the proceeds of this salacious rubbish would be worth it alone. The only slightly troubling aspect is the research bit. I would probably need to do a Bettina Arndt & ask for my lovely Hedgies to submit & then cut & paste into book form!!
    M xx


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