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Emma Cowing: ‘Mummy porn’ a rather grey area

LAST weekend I hosted a hen party. Well, I say hosted. In reality I ordered some sparkly cupcakes, bought in a small lake of Prosecco from Majestic and sent off for some flowery bunting.

The event passed off without the need for inciting the UN Peace Accord – always a win in my book when 20 women are spending a weekend together – but there was one topic of conversation that kept raising its head. “Have you…” I was asked on at least three separate occasions, usually in a conspiratorial whisper, “…read Fifty Shades of Grey?”

Fifty Shades of Grey, for those of you whohave missed it, is becoming one of the fastest-selling books of all time. First published as an e-book, it has outstripped both Harry Potter and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code by selling 550,000 copies quicker than any other paperback. Written by EL James, a former TV executive, the novel by the wife and mother of two from London has now topped the book sales charts for ten weeks. And its subject matter? World peace? The secret to happiness? The answer to life, the universe and everything? Nope, it’s sex.

Fifty Shades of Grey is the sort of book that makes Jilly Cooper’s novels look like Anthea Turner’s cleaning manuals. It’s all there in this book in terms of kinks, whims and fetishes, wrapped up in an erotically-tied bow that explores the notions of older men, younger women and verging-on-the-dangerously-submissive relationships.

Perhaps what is most interesting about Fifty Shades of Grey, however, is the type of reader it is attracting: namely middle-aged married women, many of them mothers, who have been discussing the book’s risque plot lines outside the school gates, and thus giving rise to a new genre, ironically called “Mummy porn”.

Book clubs, more used to dissecting the latest fluffy offerings from Oprah Winfrey’s book club, have been lapping up this new, rather more steamy tome, rapidly becoming de rigeur reading for any woman over 30.

Meanwhile on the Mummy blogger sites, in a rare departure from the usual posts about nappies and school choices, screaming headlines instead proffer such bald statements as “50 Shades of Grey Can Inspire More than Just Submissive Sex” and “50 Shades of Grey Lovers Contract Will Save You From Vanilla Sex”. Good to know.

In the US, the book has received so much attention that there have even been discussions over whether it should be banned, with online petitions and protests against its liberal “Mills and Boon with bondage” slant gathering steam in recent weeks.

The theory is that women read erotic fiction – and this is nothing new, think of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the books of Anais Nin, The Story of O and so on – because it is not visual. This allows them to enter into the world of fantasy guilt-free, and without the inevitable and (usually negative) comparisons with other women.

I suspect, however, that the obsession with Fifty Shades of Grey (and its two sequels, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed) has as much to do with the fact that it was originally written as a piece of Twilight fan fiction as anything else. In short, it’s a book written for people who don’t read books, a sort of BDSM version of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code (now there’s an image to grapple with).

While I think it’s a great thing that one novel has captured the libido of so many women – and indeed it seems to be garnering such a positive reaction perhaps GPs should consider prescribing it on the NHS – and while it is always positive for women to talk about these things, particularly with each other, I do find it just a little depressing that they have had to read a book that attacks these issues with such little finesse (yes, I have read the book, and no, I was not particularly impressed). Apart from anything else it suggests a publishing world that up until now has ignored the needs of women to produce these sorts of books in the first place.

Fifty Shades of Grey is not the first erotic novel aimed at women to hit the shelves, nor will it be the last. The problem with it is not its subject matter – the outpouring of liberated discussion about it suggests that it is, in fact, a jolly good thing – but the fact that it is rather a poor excuse for a book. Women deserve better than a bit of fan fiction made good, and if “Mummy porn” is really a genre that is here to stay, let’s hope that the quality of literature increases as fast as the sales of Fifty Shades of Grey.

 

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