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Published: Verve Magazine, July 2012

A new-age romance between a control-freak billionaire and a literature student crashes into bedrooms, with power play, emotional battles and raging erotica

Oh my,’ says the heroine repeatedly in the bestselling Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy (2011-2012). It alternatively expresses desire, shock, despair, erotica and joy. British author, E L James, inspired by the Twilight trilogy, found her writing cast aside as ‘parasitic’ fan fiction. And then Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele’s edgy romance took the trashy reads’ world by storm, setting fire to the bookshelves, getting banned in libraries, having rioting fans get the books reinstated and finding place in Hollywood bidding war for the movie rights, with every young star clamouring for a chance to play the lead in this film.

A pale, large-eyed literature student succumbs to the mesmerising charms of a devastatingly handsome, sexually deviant 20-something billionaire. The pages are laden with expletives, orgasms, whips and BDSM erotica, and somewhere lurks a haunting resemblance to the protagonists of Twilight. Which is shocking because Edward Cullen and Bella Swan were chaste – too chaste for their day. They barely kissed in three huge volumes of text, and made love once – when she manages to promptly get pregnant. But Grey and Steele can’t hold themselves back from crashing orgasmically through James’ trilogy, dubbed as ‘Mommy porn’.

‘I can hardly believe my good fortune. I can’t believe that he’s mine.’ You would want to whip or slap some sense into the protagonist, because you are supposed to get turned on by their friction, their delicious power struggles, their unending insecurities…. And that’s the point of no return. At the base level, James’ is suggesting that every girl wants a rich, handsome, powerful guy who desperately desires her. And deep down inside she wonders why he wants her so bad. Is she worthy of him? And every man wants a woman who loves him unconditionally and can make him happy. The fact that she is strong-willed annoys him and turns him on all at once. Is he worthy of her? Should one knowingly draw one’s self-esteem from another person?

The protagonist’s weak attempts at feminism fall prey to her lover’s need for control. Screw feminism, being commanded by a powerful man, who can skillfully pull strings of desire, is enormously sexy. But bondage isn’t just physical, it’s emotional, and it’s about breaking free when it crosses the point of no return. As she discovers her own limits, she forces him to overcome his demons and become whole, feel alive and human. Through these novels that tread new boundaries, break social barriers and open up taboo sexual topics for coffee-table discussions, the awful writing is just unfortunate for the reader. You cringe through the pages – particularly through the references of the protagonist’s ‘inner goddess’, wondering how this could become so big. No pun intended. Then, you unwillingly get wrapped up in their weaknesses and plights. You begin rooting for them, painfully learning to ignore their annoyingly one-dimensional characters and cloying issues and never-ending sex. (How do they get so much energy?) Their pain becomes yours. And so you fall. Oh my.