IS THE erotica boom over? News that the EL James parody 50 Sheds of Grey (Boxtree, £9.99) is outselling the original might leave some room for optimism, but there’s a long way to go.
Because the truly frightening thing about the EL James phenomenon isn’t just her stratospheric sales figures but – a clear case of cause and effect – the number of writers trying to follow in her wake.
In April last year, before EL James’s books appeared in the shops, about 80 “erotic fiction” novels were published every month. By August that had surged up to 180 before climaxing at 315 in September. Now, however, we’re back down to about 80, and many of them are mash-ups, like 50 Shades of Dorian Grey, published this week by Piatkus, or straightforward and rather unsubtle spoofs, like 50 Sheds of Grey (“‘Hurt me,’ she begged, raising her skirt as she bent over the workplace. ‘Very well,’ I replied. ‘You’ve got fat ankles and no dress sense.’”)
As that is about the best line in the book, and its 144 pages are in large print and contain a lot of photos of sheds, I find its success – in the run-up to Christmas, it was the best-selling book in Britain’s bookshops – just as hard to fathom as the erotic fiction boom in the first place. And don’t even get me started on Fifty Shades of Pink (FastPrint), a story of two pigs who love to have sex in “the pen of pain”, which is the latest example of this abject supposed-to-be-funny category to cross my desk en route to the rubbish bin.
But there is one book with “Fifty Shades” in its title that I do look forward to this year. In Fifty Shades of Feminism (Virago, March) 50 prominent women – Joan Bakewell, Linda Grant, Kate Mosse and Jeanette Winterson among them – will look at whether women really are as secretly submissive as EL James and the erotic fictioneers imply.
Bought at borders?
Finally, by way of contrast to this depressing stuff about erotic fiction, let me tell you about freelance London writer Ann Morgan. Last year, I enthused about her project of reading a book from every one of the 197 countries in the world within a year, and suggested that it would make a good book in its own right. Harvill Secker have taken up the idea, although we’ll have to wait until 2014 to read it. I can’t wait.