There’s a new Fifty Shades novel out, and the timing doesn’t seem good. While turgid prose and flimsy characterisation haven’t prevented the existing four books in this inexplicably lucrative kinkathon shifting 150 million copies to date, the recent Harvey Weinstein allegations might seem to muddy the already questionable appeal of a “sensuous romance” built around the magnetism of a predatory tycoon who uses ex-FBI spies to keep tabs on the object of his desire.
The story, in case you forgot, centres on a sexually sadistic CEO who introduces a shy student seven years his junior to the joys of nipple clamps and butt plugs. The original novel, published in 2011, was always disconcerting, but re-reading it amid the ongoing flood of testimony to the abuse of male power makes one’s mind boggle that there was ever a good time for this unsavoury hymn to workplace harassment.
It starts when literature undergraduate Anastasia is sent by her student newspaper to interview the secretive entrepreneur Christian Grey (as a major benefactor of her university, he hands out the degrees at graduation time). Here’s what happens when they share a lift:
“Oh, f— the paperwork,” he growls. He lunges at me, pushing me against the wall of the elevator. Before I know it, he’s got both of my hands in one of his in a vicelike grip above my head, and he’s pinning me to the wall using his hips… “You. Are. So. Sweet,” he murmurs, each word a staccato.