Sex sells, there’s no question about that. People’s appetite for sex—be it good sex, bad sex, hilarious sex, or bondage sex, etc, in words and in video—is huge. The success of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy by E. L. James is an ample attestation. Since the publication of the original novel, the trilogy has sold over 125 million copies globally, with the film adaptation of the first book grossing over $569 million.
And success, like alcohol, intoxicates. In the case of E. L. James, that’s not exactly a bad thing. She decided to take advantage of the huge success of her books as well as people’s appetite for a kinky sex saga, to propose a ‘rewrite’, entitled “Grey”, this time, told from Christian Grey’s perspective. Not surprisingly, it has been the top Kindle pre-order book of 2015 on Amazon.
|Steele & Grey (pictured in the film adaptation)|
Now, the reviews are in and some of them are not flattering. “It’s full of recycling,” wrote Jim Dandy on Amazon. “Recycled plot, recycled characters, recycled dialogues—James must’ve had a breeze, not having to come up with new things to write. But reading it was no breeze.” Many people commented on the review, agreeing with him.
The Economist’s view was not flattering either. “Considering such commercial savvy, it is disappointing that the author and her publishers are so bereft of ambition. The events covered in “Grey” are an exact facsimile of those in the first novel…”
Reviews in the Daily Mail by Libby Purves expressed the same disappointment. “With crafty economy of effort, Ms James has simply shadowed the whole plot of Book One, reproducing the clunky polystyrene dialogue word for word, and inserting italicised thoughts by Christian himself… James also reproduces all the tediously samey sexual encounters, from the couple's first tryst, in which Grey refrains from hitting Anastasia, to the final flogging which makes her — very temporarily — leave him, on the bizarre pretext that she cannot be 'what he really wants’.”
And Bryony Gordon, reviewing the book for The Telegraph, didn’t like it either. “This, then, is the best the 21st century can come up with in terms of romantic literary heroes – a cut-price Mr. Darcy in nipple clamps,” he wrote. “It is as sexy as a misery memoir and as arousing as the diary of a sex offender.”
|Fabrizio Ristori & Elisa (pictured in the TV series)|
Now, let me tell you a story. In 2003, Italy’s Channel 5 aired a television series called “Elisa of Rivombrosa,” which became unexpectedly successful. Inspired by the 1740 novel, Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, the series, set in the Piedmont region of Italy, was about a love story in 17th century Italy between a young Italian Count, Fabrizio Ristori, and his mother’s maid, Elisa. The series aired 26 episodes spanning two seasons and ended with a bang, making television history in Italy. Though the story had effectively run its course, the producers, seemingly intoxicated by their success, became emotional during the closing ceremony, promising to return with another season.
They did, this time, with “The Daughter of Elisa—A return to Rivombrosa.” But the surprise element that catapulted the original series to success was no longer there. “The Daughter of Elisa…” compared to the first, was a resounding flop. In fact, in no other instance had the Italian saying, “A reheated soup is never good,” been truer.
There is a little similarity between this event and E. L. James’ decision to release “Grey,” not in economic terms but in terms of appeal and novelty. No matter, the reviews of “Grey,” in a way, are as disappointing as they make the book out to be. Writing in The Guardian, Jenny Colgan, said, “In some ways, Grey, the follow-up to EL James's bestseller, is almost the same book. It is as if every line of dialogue, every legal contract that sets out Christian Grey's sub-dom relationship with Anastasia Steele, every email from the first volume has been cut and pasted in. We follow each scene in the same order, except this time we see it from Christian's point of view.”
Exactly! And therein lies the triteness of the reviews.
The author hadn’t promised to write a new story. Indeed, based on that alone, “Grey” is neither a disappointment nor a literary failure. It was simply proposed as a ‘rewrite’ of the original story to make readers “see the world of Fifty Shades of Grey anew through the eyes of Christian Grey.”
Now, this is my view. After being wowed by the story in three original Fifty Shades books, if people, unable to curb their craving for a bondage saga and kinky sex, wanted to ‘hear’ the same story told from a different perspective, then every attempt to demean the effort, is hypocritical.