Normally I’ve to work hard for my rewards so you can imagine my pleasant surprise when I turned up at the Central Hotel in Dublin on Friday night and was presented out of the blue with a prize. The presentation was given by a small group of writers consisting of 1) Hennessy Short Story finalist and crime-writer Colm O’Shea 2) Eye-surgeon and writer Ian Flitcroft the creator of the thoroughly enjoyable ‘The Reluctant Cannibals’. 3) Novelist Janet Cameron of ‘Cinnamon Toast And The End of The World’ fame, blog writer with the gift of the gab and a scathing sense of humor. It was Janet who presented me with the prize, the prize being a copy ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’.
Now, I’m no literary snob but I did read an extract of this title in the national newspaper a while back and made a decision that I wouldn’t prioritize it as a read. Not that I’m against erotic fiction. I admire the intense prose of Anaïs Nin for example and the sexual tension in Nabokov’s Volshebnik (‘The Enchanter’), is a gem read. But if the writing slips, the content becomes porn and that tires quickly. But, the tongue-in-cheek backlash (‘scuse the pun) against EL James from the educated classes bothers me too. ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is a benchmark book, it’s a positive example of self-publishing, it’s a digital-first title only going to print when earned its stripes as online bestseller proving that publishing globally online is a very different thing to the traditional gatekeeper type-publishing with its neat print runs. I commend this title if only for shattering some obstructive legacy thinking. But I really did not want to buy it. Or borrow it from the library, or have it on my ereader or what not. Nor did I want to put it on the ‘to be read’ list in the Goodreads list alongside Munro and Franzen. The lurking snobbery of that bothered me.
All four of us in of the Central Hotel crew had reasons for not reading it but our reasons were dubious. Mine, apart from snobbishness, was that I might find myself crippled with writers’ block jealousy that I hadn’t written it first. Ian Flitcroft was the most open-minded saying that at least it opened up reading ‘at all’ to a group of people who ordinarily wouldn’t go near a book. Colm O’Shea, to be fair, confessed it wasn’t his genre at all, but perhaps if it were more gritty with a bit of murder thrown in? Maybe. The book bothered Janet too. Here we were, bitching about something we hadn’t read, it felt that the time had come to read the thing. So being excellent delegators and knowing that time is precious, much like a study group, we nominated one person to read for all and report back. Janet Cameron was nominated as reader for all. She would keep us updated via her blog and ‘just for fun’ she decided also to throw in 50 pages of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ and 50 pages of a lesbian biker novel called ‘Satan’s Best’ so we could get a balance on ‘pure trash, great literature and middle-brow trash, all concerning sex.’ What emerged was a very concise report that will not only make you laugh but is clearly a solid draft for the “For Dummies – Fifty Shades of Grey’.
An advantage of Cameron’s report is that she wades through the surplus flesh (sorry!) and points out the pages where serious action occurs. You don’t even have to bother with the thin plot if needs be. When the going gets tough, Cameron casts Ana as Cillian Murphy, which sort of helps keep it interesting. Cameron spotted a failing of imagination in the book as follows: Despite all the spanking and follow up penetrative sex, Grey’s order for Ana (aka Cillian Murphy) to be ‘on first name terms’ with his ‘considerable length’ is never fully realized. A star without a name? So Janet opened up a competition. The challenge was to name Grey’s favorite body part. The winner would get a ‘used’ copy of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ Naturally I rushed to enter the competition. The naming of the part (or parts – for they are, to my holistic mind, inseparable) fired up my imagination but more importantly IF I won it would solve the snobbish dilemma re how to have the book without buying or borrowing it. I confess when presented with the prize publicly I did blush and ask for a bag to take it home in, concerned that I might encourage unwanted chat with some drunken langer on the last bus. As to what Grey’s dong and associated parts are now called? Go to Janet Cameron’s website Part III to find out! Spot the dearth of imagination. Could it be that I was the only one who entered? So it seems, as they say, in the land of the blind…
To spread the love I now open the competition to find a new name for the ‘member’ he (or she) who wins gets the printed book posted or even better presented to them in public, only after I’ve read the interesting parts