After the record-breaking success of the Fifty Shades trilogy, publishers are desperately trying to answer the multi-million dollar question, what comes next? What will all those millions of readers who have raced through Fifty Shades want to read now?
With a depressing lack of imagination, many publishers seem to have landed on the answer of more erotica. Each week, more and more shiny paperbacks with suggestive covers, claiming they are ‘the next Fifty Shades’, arrive in the bookshop where I work. If this is the future of reading, then it is bleak indeed.
To be fair to publishers, sometimes following a successful book with more of the same can work very well – witness the surge in popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction, sparked by the breakthrough trilogy from Steig Larsson. But this worked because the Steig Larsson books are actually quite good, which is more than can be said for Fifty Shades.
Admittedly, Fifty Shades has its fans, but there are also a great many readers who can see it for the twaddle it is. The most popular review on Amazon gives it just one star, and nearly 5,000 people found that review helpful. Intrigued by the readers who gave the book five star reviews, I clicked through, only to find that those five stars have mostly been awarded with a splendid sense of irony, boasting titles like ‘crap book, great drinking game!’ or ‘lights really easily’ for a bonfire.
Fifty Shades was a craze, a mad phenomenon. Everyone wanted to read it either because they wanted to see for themselves how ridiculously bad it is, or because they wanted to read it on the tube as a way to flirtatiously suggest to their fellow passengers that they just might be up for a spot of S&M.
But — like most fads — I’m sure it will prove to be a short-lived sensation. Remember that we’re British. We’re too shy, uptight and easily embarrassed to make a habit of reading raunchy books. Fifty Shades became a sort of hilarious accessory – a ‘can you believe I’m reading it?’ badge to poke daringly out the top of your handbag. No one is going to flaunt their copy of Destined to Play or Twelve Shades of Surrender or whatever other erotic rubbish the publishers are churning out in eager anticipation of the next big thing.
So it was with a little yelp of delight that I read the news that Fifty Shades was knocked off the top slot, not by another piece of erotica, but by a cookbook. The Hairy Dieters is the new cookbook from the Hairy Bikers, two big hairy men, for whom — I hope — S&M stands for sausages and mash. The Bikers commented on their success by happily pointing out that ‘Sex may be important but the way to a nation’s heart is still through its stomach.’ Too right!
Let’s hope that Britain is bidding farewell to this fad for badly written erotica. After a diverting summer fling with sadomasochism, it would appear that we are returning to our comforting common-sense world of pies and lasagne, albeit optimistically low-fat versions. Would Christian Grey approve of this kind of food? Well I’m sure it won’t be long before publishers dream up a Fifty Shades cookbook.