Saturday, September 15, 2012

Why I am not reading "50 Shades of Grey", a review of "Story of O"

Warning: This post deals with an 'adult' topic. If you are my parents, friends of my parents, or anyone who would go 'ew' if I discuss something of a sexual nature, GO AWAY NOW. 

For those left, howdy. Here's a book review I have been mulling over in my head, whether to post or not. But, hell, I've been writing about Oslo for so long, how about a change of scenery? Wanna talk erotica?

I am sure, unless you live under a rock, that you have heard about this series of novels called "50 Shades of Grey".  I know I have. I have heard about them, had them recommended to me and also had them severely UNrecommended to me, have seen spoofs, satires, twitterfakes, and oh-so-many take-offs on the theme. I've heard Ellen Degeneres read excerpts. I've heard Donald Duck read excerpts. And I have heard, hilariously, Elmer Fudd read excerpts.  I've read criticisms, literary discussions, heard podcasts, seen discussions on tv. Talked about it at work, with family, friends and strangers on busses who were reading it.

And I STILL don't want to read it, for a variety of reasons. Mostly, of course, that they come from "Twilight" fan fiction, and I fucking HATED the Twilight series, and I really gave it the old college try, I read them all. I hated Bella, hated Edward, hated the writing style, hated those awful fucking twinkling vampires and wimpy ass Bella and her virginal idiocy. (My 3 word review of the Twilight series? "JUST FUCK ALREADY".) So why on EARTH would I want to read smut that stems from those books? Especially BDSM smut, a genre which I am not too familiar with, but if I *am* going to read it, I am not going to start off reading it from a launching pad which I already despise?

Now, saying that I haven't read much BDSM, does NOT mean that I haven't read stuff. I've read "Fanny Hill". I've read the Marquise de Sade (left me kind of cold, that). I've read Choderlos de Laclos. I've read Nancy Friday's stuff. I have Anais Nin around here somewhere. I have some blogs I read online, too, some of the choicest modern erotica available,  truly gorgeous stuff.  (I suppose, with my English major background, I tend to the classics, even in my smut. I like a well-written story.)

So I ain't an innocent. But I *am* ornery, and I don't want to read something just because everyone else is, you know? Anyhow, in a bunch of reviews I read about "50 Shades of Grey" , many of the reviewers said to just cut to the chase and read the original, classic BDSM novel, "The Story of O". So I did. And I can't get it out of my fucking mind. (If you haven't read it, I am not going into plot details here.)

Rarely have I been so turned on and shocked by a book all at once. There were scenes that had me practically panting, and then a page later, a scene that had me cringing, wondering why was 'O" such an idiot, how could she DO that. And then she would go off and be sensible about the sick thing she was doing, and dammit, it made sense, even if it didn't. I think I was freaked out because I understood her, even though I really, truly, honestly, did not WANT to understand her. But I did, because of her essential femininity and her desire to love and please and be loved. What woman doesn't want that? What woman doesn't, at some point, even if she maybe never actually does it, want to prove her love in any way possible, would do almost anything to show her devotion?

But "O", she took it to an extreme, to a sometimes very sick extreme, in ways that I was shocked that an author, in 1954, would even have had the imagination to create. I mean, wow. 1954? I still can't get over it. But there was beauty in even the ugliest scene, the sharpness of the author's prose  was exquisite, (a woman who still remains anonymous to this day) and the clarity of "O's" character, her sometimes surprisingly calculating strength, her surety of her power even as she was moved me. Even as I resisted being moved by it.

When I was in college I spent a few years studying the role of women in Western Civilization, especially the idea of women in early Christianity and the very narrow and defined roles they were forced to play. (Mother, Daughter, Virgin, Wife, Queen, Nun, Whore, Mystic, Midwife, Witch). "O" reminds me of one of the early Christian Mystics, the women who hurled themselves into their religion with an insane focus, giving themselves up body and soul to their personal version of Christ and God. They were Brides of Christ, and literally broke themselves to prove their devotion, their dominion over their earthly bodies, to attain that higher plane of existence where they rose above mere physicality into something 'other'. "O" was a throwback to that crazed dedication. Her very weakness in doing whatever these men wanted was strangely her strength. In letting them treat her so badly, she ennobled herself, somehow, and rose above their baseness. Their primitive, animalistic and objectified treatment of her only increased her nobility, her affecting aloofness. She broke herself with love, she burned herself on the pyre of devotion, she scourged herself with sex in every sick and perverse form that could be devised, everything to rise above her mortal self,  just as those early religious mystics did (though obviously, not sexually). It really was a sick and twisted version of martyrdom, martyrdom to love and adoration above the mere physical, even though it was so rooted in sexual physicality as to be painful to the observer.

I read it two weeks ago. I still can't stop thinking about it. I hate "O", and I worry about "O", I admire "O",  and I understand her even as I revile her.


  1. I've never read this: Ive read Ann Rice's Sleep Beauty trilogy, and some lighter erotica, but this sounds quite interesting. Good thing I've got Kindle for the train ride, eh?

    1. I've got the Anne Rice trilogy too, somewhere. I should reread was so long ago.

      Story of O will leave you almost traumatized at the end, and it does have a bit of a cliffhanger. I have the paperback if you want it. And I'd be interested in your thoughts on it.

  2. Marla1:58 PM

    Beautiful post, K. Love, M.


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