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Erotic novel serves as good fertiliser

If you don’t know about 50 Shades of Grey yet (ie: if you don’t have Twitter) then here’s a brief summary: it’s an erotic novel about a young girl who meets some older guy into BDSM. She works in a hardware shop and one seduces the other (my guess is he seduces her, because girls don’t typically do anything but swoon in romance novels), and I guess there are a lot of double entendres on the word ‘wood’. I hope there are.

That would make it readable. Wait, no. Funny.

The book apparently started out (like so many aesthetic abortions) as Twilight fan fiction. Given Twilight‘s storyline is based on a pretty classic tale of girl-meets-boy, the fan fiction label is probably as constricting as a pair of elastic-waisted harem trousers, so I wouldn’t worry about a lawsuit appearing any time soon.

The similarity, it seems, lies more in style than substance – ‘all the minutiae and self-indulgent navel gazing of Twilight is present in this book, too’ – which goes some way to explaining why everyone I have asked about it, and every review I have read, have said: ‘I didn’t like it myself but…’

The ‘but’ being the massive sales and publicity, which have prompted major publishing house attention. Regardless of it’s humble origins and literary merit, it has sold well, and had now been picked up in the USA by Vintage Publishing, who are releasing the eBook today.

Several parts of this story make me go: ‘Hmmmmmm’. First, does it somehow demean the claim that publishers bring something of value to a novel when we start supporting a book in the same market where it’s already a best-seller – after the hard yards and big dirty slog have been done in some mysterious way already? Why not go after the fan fiction of the fan fiction?

Secondly, I’ve heard from people on Twitter and blogs that the book is badly written and hardly edited. Maybe I shouldn’t care, but there’s always going to be a part of me, deep in my brain’s heart, that wants everyone to read ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ and weep at the beauty of the world and of love, so there’s always a part of me that dies a little upon hearing that a new bestseller started as fan-fiction of another best seller that wasn’t lauded for its attention to the beauty of language or ideas.

Maybe these sorts of books are fertiliser – enriching the growth of something far better, something of another form, and as publishers part of our job is shovelling … fertiliser around. Maybe I should get over my foibles and realise I am not an arbiter of taste and most of the stuff I read (although not naked enough to be labelled as erotica) is probably self-indulgent enough to class as masturbatory.

Maybe I should be really glad this book has become popular. I do sort of look forward to a time when everyone is reading erotica out in the open – I’m sure it’ll increase the likelihood that someone will actually crack a smile on public transport. I hope it’s during the olympics.

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Felice Howden

Felice Howden had opinions before she knew what the word 'opinion' meant. She wrote for the publishing and ideas blog Socratic Ignorance Is Bliss, and has had short stories published around the place. She graduated from the University of Melbourne in 2008 with a degree in English and Philosophy, and now spends her time typing code and hatching brain eggs for the future of publishing in a major publishing house.

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