So I know I am coming to the party late, and am not the first, nor will I be the last, to write about the publishing phenomenon that is "Fifty Shades". But having read all three books in rapid succession, I felt I had to write something. And it's not about the sex! It is just that I have never, ever, had such a reaction to a book in my life. I read a lot for the BBC Radio Ulster "Arts Extra" arts show - a lot of new writing, Irish, English, American, novels, short stories, poetry, memoirs, essays, biographies. I read them where and when I can. On the bus, in the hairdressers, over breakfast, lunch and even dinner. But I have never, ever had so much reaction to what I am reading until "Fifty Shades". Nobody has peeked into my bag and said I can't believe you are reading the new John Banville. Or talked to my reflection in the hairdresser's mirror that she can't put down the new Joseph O'Connor. More's the pity, as the literary purists would say. More's the pity I say too, but that doesn't mean you can dismiss what EL James has done by writing "Fifty Shades".
I have been equally lauded and lambasted for reading it. I've been told in no uncertain terms that it's rubbish and what am I doing wasting my time? "It's a cross between Mills & Boon and the Marquis De Sade" was one memorable comment thrown at me with near scorn. But equally I have had the most unlikely conversations with strangers about characters, plot development, narrative structure, and how difficult it is to write a good sex scene and felt a connection that, as an avid reader, I don't often get.
And on the 17th September we'll have the soundtrack to it too, curated by the author, the 15 classical pieces of music she name checks in the book. That along with the name checking of Portadown artist Jennifer Trouton's work, it seems that the former Belfast based EL James, married to a man from Newry, is using her new found fame to push and promote other creatives.
And come on, nobody is expecting it to win the Pulitzer Prize. It is what it is, pure escapism and as the grey clouds of financial doom and gloom encircle us, who wouldn't want a bit of the Christian Grey lifestyle to spread some light on us? Once he has removed the blindfold of course!