So I was going to my little cottage in Kerala which despite leaks and spiders the size of kittens is still my oasis of perfect calm. I do not have a TV there nor do I own a laptop. And once I get there, I bury my phone under a mound of pillows so that I am, except at specific times, unreachable.
One of my greatest joys there is to start a book and read it through the day stopping only to eat a meal or do a chore or two for my parents. Otherwise it is the perfect reader haven. So much so I even read through the most daunting of tomes.
The night before I headed out, at a British Council book event, I met Vani Mahesh (www.easylib.com) along with a few others. And one book dominated the conversation: Fifty shades of Grey.To put it mildly, it seemed to unleash fifty shades of ire and derision.
As a rule I generally avoid reading any book when the media hype engine is pumping full throttle. I am only human and quite likely to read the book through the eyes and faculties of the media machine than my own. But this was something else. Everyone seemed united in their dislike of it and yet it seemed they were running out of paper in the UK and US ─ such seemed to be the demand for copies of Fifty Shades of Grey. More! More! More!
“Vani, do you think I could borrow it?” I asked unable to help myself. I truly was curious as to what it was about this book that seemed to have caused such polar reactions?
Vani probably felt as I did for she was carrying a copy in her bag. Apparently there was a long waiting list for the book at her library.
And so Fifty shades of Grey went with me to my cottage. But first there was an exercise in restraint. I do not have mesh screens on my windows there which meant no nighttime reading in bed. Or, I would have the entire insect world descending on me. The crazy bugs here are so drawn to light that even if I were to read using a flashlight under a sheet, they arrive in hordes. Hence Fifty shades of Grey would have to be read in broad daylight.
Was that what made the book seem less like contraband for me? Or, was it the phrase Mummy Porn?
Now I had imagined naked mummies taking a break from slapping together peanut butter- grape jelly-sandwiches & fried chicken dinners, school runs and PTA meetings and daddy’s almost bored fumblings and having wild rambunctious sex in the backseat of the family estate wagon with some random stranger picked up at a bar or even a Jehovah’s witness, and of course these random strangers would look like Mathew McConaughey or a young John Travolta. Random being the operative word.
And then to discover the heroine was a young twenty something so Mummy Porn was all about the readership rather than the goings on in the book.
Or, was it the large tedious chunks of the contracts? Or, was it just the fact that it really wasn’t all that erotic?
I have read Mills & Boons which have more carefully drawn out erotica than this about a virgin twenty something who has a natural aptitude for fellatio. [Not to mention the gnawing of lower lip and rolling of eyes]
Pauline Reage’s The Story of O had me afraid to breathe imagining to the extent desire rides on both pain and pleasure. That pain exists at the same time as pleasure. That suffering is also joy. So O is subject to tortures that are ‘a-plenty in the Story of O. There are cuts from the riding-crop, branding with a red-hot iron to say nothing of the iron collar and the exposure in the middle of the terrace – almost as many tortures as there are prayers in the life of ascetics who inhabit the desert. Nor are they less carefully distinguished and virtually enumerated – one set off from the other by little stone markers. They are not always joyful tortures – I mean to say joyfully inflicted. Rene refuses to inflict them; and if Sir Stephen consents, it is as though he were performing a duty. From all evidence, the tortures do not find their work amusing. They have nothing of the sadistic in them. Everything happens as if from the outset it were O alone who demanded to be hurt, flushed from her retreat by punishment.’[Jean Paulhan]
So after this the Red Room seemed more a play pen and jungle gym for kiddies fooling around pretending to be kinky grown ups.
That is not to say I didn’t enjoy the book. I did for most parts, even if the writing was at its best, mediocre. I did like the saucey heroine and the cold brooding Grey with his fifty shades of ‘fucked-up-ness’. And since I am such a sucker for romance, at the end of the book I wanted to know what happened next.
And I have my own take on why mummies everywhere are devouring it with their anti-oxidant pills and quinoa. Mummies and non-mummies of a certain age know that with familiarity romance goes out of the window.
There is no ping of the BBM punctuating the day. At the most, he may text you: Can u pk up the milk when u step out?
You can gnaw at your lip till it is mash but coded signals will remain uncoded. You might as well put on a baby doll nightie and hold up a placard that says ‘Fuck Time’.
And if you roll your eyes at him, he will retreat behind the newspaper or change the TV channels thinking oh it’s that time of the month for her.
Besides this Grey guy makes one kind of wistful. Imagine a lover who will upgrade your plane tickets and buy the seat next to you as well so no one else sits there. An intense possessive lover is rather sexy.
There is also something immensely intimate about wearing a boyfriend’s boxer briefs. Vice versa may need some getting used to but Grey, scars and all, is the kind of man whose boxers you want to borrow. It has nothing to do with the fact that he owns his own helicopter and feeds most of Dafur.
I don’t know if I would ever be able to turn into a contractee or condone a Grey in my life 24 x 7. But hey, every woman needs a fantasy to cling to. The inner Mummy in me leapt and giggled. And said ‘gimme more.’
Anita Nair is the bestselling author of The Better Man, Ladies Coupe, Mistress and Lessons in Forgetting. Her books have been translated into over 30 languages around the world. Her new novel Cut Like Wound will be published in September 2012.