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E.L James: Fifty Shades of Grey
Originally published online on the Twilight trilogy fan page and later published independently, the Fifty Shades of Grey series has quickly become a best seller in print, outselling even the Harry Potter collection. Gaining popularity as an eyebrow-raising, racy romance, we dug into the first volume of Fifty Shades of Grey to find out what the hype was all about.
The novel tells the story of Anastasia Steele; a young college student who attracts the interest of business tycoon Christian Grey after she interviews him for the university newspaper. As she becomes involved with him, Steele learns of Grey’s aberrant BDSM sexual tastes. An overbearing ‘Adonis’ figure, Grey is moody with an overwhelming need for control, making him all the more challenging and desirable for Steele. Sexually inexperienced and insecure, Steele seems like a perfect ‘submissive’ partner for Grey, but, as their relationship develops, she discovers that she’s interested in more than just a physical relationship.
Granted, the novel is both steamy and kinky; the risqué sexuality is explained in fine detail to both the reader and the protagonist, who is learning all about BDSM herself. At the end of the day, though, the novel is also the cliché tale of a young, inexperienced girl trying to reform a typical bad boy, with a lot of sex in between. And while Steele develops and grows, we have very little exposition to her character outside of her pursuit of Grey.
While Fifty Shades of Grey has been criticized for its sexual content, it is perhaps the prose that deserves a bad rap. Littered with trite and redundant expressions, phrases like “Oh my” and a constant internal struggle between Steele and her “inner Goddess” make it painful to read at times. On the other hand, the language is simple and honest, making the book an equally easy read.
Most notable is Fifty Shades of Grey’s success in online-publishing-gone-to-print, making it a formula that may open up a whole new realm for online publishers in the future. With crowd sourced casting for the up-coming film and a fashion series styled after the novel, it is a puzzling success story – especially given its unremarkable plot and writing.
Perhaps because of all the controversy it’s stirred up, Fifty Shades of Grey continues to top best seller charts. Suspenseful and erotic, events unfold quickly and end abruptly; it ultimately leaves readers waiting for part two.
Detective Bosch has a lot going on in his personal front as well; his fifteen-year-old daughter who is way too mature for her age and wants to grow up to be a police officer is his main support system at home, and a budding romance between Bosch and a social worker adds a tinge of romance to Bosch's life.
The novel is left open-ended, in a way that allows the characters to seem more real as if their lives will continue beyond the pages of the novel.
Born and raised in Texas, Gretchen McCullough's teaching career has taken her to Egypt, Turkey and Japan; currently, McCullough teaches writing in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at the American University in Cairo.
Released earlier this year, her latest publication is titled ‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’; a compilation of short stories revolving around a host of eccentric individuals and their experiences in Cairo. A large bulk of the stories are driven by the thoughts rummaging through the characters minds and, more often than not, they transpire to be both charming and relatable.
‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’ has a colourful team of characters with strong presence, charisma and an air of familiarity. Digging deeper into their personal lives and problems, her writing style is distinct, bringing an American charm and non-linearity to her stories, which builds a pleasant intricacy.
With many of the characters connected by a single building in Garden City, McCullough allots the main characters in her stories as small cameos in others, spreading the characters' presence and allowing for further development.
In ‘A Little Honey and a Little Sunlight’, we are given insight into the raging nature of Professor Gary by his dying neighbour, Joe Pulaski - a poet - reminiscing his days spent living in Cairo. Many pages later in ‘Pure Water’, we find ourselves reading from the eyes of Dr Gary as he spends time with his bulky Greek friend, Kolombos, in a mental asylum before the uprising of January 25th. The title story, meanwhile, sees two main protagonists; journalist and teacher, Mary Beth Somers, and her dentist, Dr Samy. Far from sappy, the two fall into a love which avoids the overt romantic notions seen in cliched literature, despite ending on a melancholic note.
Aside from the characters, Cairo as a city is portrayed as an integral player in the stories. On regular occasions, vivid descriptions of popular places in the city are given, such as El Horreya, Windsor Bar, the Gezirah Club and Koshari Abou Tarek. Having visited all these places ourselves, it's obvious that McCullough has immersed herself in the city, and amongst its people, well beyond the point of a touristic escapade. She’s become a sort of semi-native, in touch with Cairene culture, but maintains enough outside insight to give a new perspective to those who’ve been living in the city for too long.
With its mix of emotions and interesting character troupe, ‘Shahrazad’s Tooth’ promises an entertaining, comforting read for both locals and foreigners alike.