Many books have explored the interplay of dominance and submission, most famously the Victorian eroticas and most recently Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy. What explains the sudden popularity of “Fifty Shades of Grey”? Well, the Victorians can be anachronistic, and even the Beauty trilogy was a fairy tale. E.L. James’ novel brings dominance and submission into the 21st century.
Early on we meet our protagonist and narrator, Anastasia Steele, and her best friend, Kate. Kate has all the makings of a domme, and her “pushiness” with Ana parallels Ana’s foray into submission with love interest Christian Grey. In another bit of foreshadowing, Ana also stumbles as she enters Christian Grey’s office, so she is introduced to him on all fours.
Christian Grey immediately reveals himself to be the quintissential dom, quoting Andrew Carnegie, “A man who acquires the ability to take full possession of his own mind may take possession of anything else to which he is justly entitled.”
Before the end of Chapter One he has recognized Ana as a would-be submissive, although she does not yet understand. Her slow realization of what that is to mean for her, her journey, her education, is the obvious and anticipated narrative. But this is not your typical erotica. In some ways “Fifty Shades of Grey” is a Cinderella love story, a woman swept off of her feet by a rich and eligible bachelor.
In spite of the storybook romance, it is a power struggle, both between Grey and Ana, and Ana with herself. The reason this book is so highly readable is that Ana asks all of the questions a reasonable person would ask, and intelligently considers the psychology behind the nature of dominance. In some ways it is Bridget Jones’ Diary. With Riding Crops.
Which brings us to the other reason this book has taken America by storm. The sex scenes are extremely hot. The couple doesn’t actually explore very far into the darkness of S&M, but their vanilla sex is fantastic. You can be guaranteed if this book is on the nightstand of the housewives of America, the husbands of America are getting some action tonight.