Thursday, February 12, 2015

50 Shades of Grey, The Book of You and the reality of fantasy


Something a bit different to my usual bookish posts, but I wanted to ramble.

50 Shades of Grey, for all its criticism (mine included), is a very successful franchise. There's no denying that the author has made a lot of money off the back of it, and it must have fans out there somewhere. The very fact that the film version has a hugely publicised Valentine's Day release speaks volumes. This is being touted as THE film to go and see this Saturday - whether it be with your partner or in a group just to take the mickey.

But what, really, is it about? Leaving aside the actual writing, let's look at the plotline. A very shy, vulnerable young woman catches the eye of a very rich, powerful young man. He decides that he wants her for himself and will stop at nothing in order to have her. Once he gets a foot inside the door, that's it. He takes over her life completely. Telling her when to eat, what to eat, what to wear, buying her car, buying the company where she works, hiring staff to watch her, hiring a doctor to administer contraceptives, then introducing her to his sexual fantasies without a single care for her opinions, wants or needs. He completely messes her head up, marks her body, and knows where she is at any given moment.

Reading the paragraph above, that doesn't sound too romantic, does it? In fact, I could almost be talking about the last book I read, The Book of You by Claire Kendal.

I bought this on a whim (I know that this is not really a place for humour but I can not write that sentence without hearing my husband's voice in my head saying "I bought this chocolate on a wimp") for kindle the other night. Clarissa is a vulnerable young woman who has been through a significant relationship break up. One of her work colleagues, Rafe, is harrassing her. Clarissa is gathering evidence to use against him - but he is very, very careful about his actions and how they could be explained away. Rafe knows where she is at any given moment. He watches her. He follows her. He knows when she has her period. He knows what food she likes, what ballet she likes, what she reads. He appears out of the blue and will stop at nothing until he has her - he will not take no for an answer. He's Christian Grey without money. Does Rafe sound sexy? Does he sound like Jamie Dornan could play him in a movie?

Fairytales are mentioned in both books - Bluebeard, in particular, crops up in both. In The Book of You, Rafe uses fairytale metaphors as a way to threaten Clarissa. In 50 Shades, Ana says the line "I tie my hair in pigtails. The more girly I look, the safer I'll be from Bluebeard". Do you know the story of Bluebeard? He was a guy who murdered his wives and kept their bodies swinging on hooks in a locked room. If that's your pet name for your significant other, you have a problem.

While I read 50 Shades with a constant eye-roll and a bit of tutting, I read The Book of You with a sense of dread and an inability to continue it before bed because I felt so uneasy. I actually even feel my lip curling into a snarl when I have to write Rafe's name - which is ridiculous, he's not real?!

I described The Book of You as "50 Shades if Ana had cop on" and I stand by that. The more I think about it, the more it baffles me that an unhealthy obsessive "relationship" could even be given publicity, let alone be the main feature in cinemas on what is supposed to be a romantic occasion.

I'm going to tell you a story now, something I haven't really talked about before. People who know me very well know about it, but I have no problem sharing.

I was on the brink of a very controlling relationship when I was younger. It was actually my first real relationship and I was desperate to please. Would you believe I met him online? It was a dating thing that used to be on pay-as-you-go Eircom phones. He was a singer in a band, I thought he was the dogs bollocks (when really he was just a bollocks). He said he liked my black eyeliner, so I wore it all the time. He said he thought I could be a model if I wasn't so fat, so I stopped eating and lived on fig rolls (can't look at them since), dropped to a size 12 (that's teeny tiny for me). He said I couldn't stay over at his because his mother said I was a bad influence so I paid for B&B accommodation for us both any time I visited. He genuinely thought he was the best thing since sliced bread and that I should have been proud to be with him. Until one day, he asked me for money & something snapped and I walked. I got a friend to ring me, faked a family emergency and I paid an extortionate amount of money to a taxi driver to get me out of there, he drove me to a different county to a friend's house. I left every single thing that I owned behind me. He sent me letters. He rang my mother's house phone day and night, until she started blowing a football whistle down the phone every time he rang. I wanted my CDs back - I had left several behind me. He texted me and told me he would post them up. Which he did. Then he proceeded to text me song lyrics from some of the CD singles I had - sometimes they would run to 12/13 texts. When I went out one day and forgot my phone, he rang me 17 times. Then he texted all manner of abuse because I didn't answer.

Thankfully - he gave up, got the message, and moved on. But I have no doubt in my mind that had I lived in the same county, or nearby, or had to see him every day, that either something would have happened or that my mental health would have been permanently shot to shit. Every time I got a text message on that old red Nokia 3330 my heart fell to my toes - for months afterwards.

This is why I think it's important to be aware that you can say STOP. Be aware that if someone appears a little obsessive or a little controlling, and the alarm bells start ringing, that you can walk. Don't tell yourself "ah he's harmless" or laugh it off. Don't put up with someone making you feel uncomfortable, or overstepping the boundaries of personal space. We have all been in a position where we have felt uncomfortable and thought "he's harmless, he's a bit of a lech, but he's harmless" - stand your ground and say NO. Say "please don't touch me like that" or "do not speak to me like that". Don't be afraid of being called a bitch. If you're in a controlling relationship, don't isolate yourself because you're afraid you'll be a burden or a nuisance on other people. There are people out there who will listen to you, who will believe you, and who will be on your side no matter how good a spin doctor the person is. We all have the right to feel safe and feel happy - nobody should feel dread, nobody should feel fear.

And it certainly shouldn't be turned into a romantic fucking film.

**The Book of You may have triggers for survivors of sexual abuse. **

Samaritans: 116 123
Rape Crisis Centre: 1800 77 88 88
Article from on how to recognise a stalker: HERE.
Visit to access a world of information on how to recognise dating abuse, and for tips on how to stay safe.


  1. I was just comparing the similarities myself, excellent post and I'm sorry to read what you went through but so glad you got out!

  2. This is a very brave post Sharon, you raise a lot of interesting points about 50 Shades. I'm glad to hear you got free of the bollocks when you did.

    1. Thanks Emma, I'm glad too! I really hate 50 Shades. I'm all for championing the right to watch porn or read erotic fiction or whatever but the whole "control every aspect of life" doesn't sit well! x

  3. I loved this post so very much. And I love you so very much too. You were a brave lady writing this one today, I've had a few similar experiences myself. There never nice but I'm glad your happier now. Thank you for sharing and thank you for the helpful numbers/links at the end xxx

    1. Thank you lovely xxxx Unfortunately you're not the only one who has said they experienced something similar, I think it is a lot more common than I would ever have thought x

  4. I read this on my break in work last week but didm't get a chance to leave a comment. You're 100% right about 50 shades and it's interesting to see the comparison with this other book you've read. It's funny how people's perceptions of something can be very subtly altered to suit the agenda of the person writing the book. Also, fair play for sharing your own experiences, that's never easy but I'm sure it'll resonate with a lot of other women, unfortunately. xx

    1. Thanks Chloe x That's it - the two books had incredibly similar main male characters but the way the female was written had a huge impact on the atmosphere, if Ana had been afraid of Christian in 50 Shades I think it would have made for very uncomfortable viewing.

  5. F*cking brilliant! Though I never read the books (don't intend too), I got the gist of it without it; and it sickens me how on one hand we, globally, have this serious issue of "rape culture" (that's a phrase that's being tossed around) and on the other side, sort of romanticising this disgusting behaviour in so-called fiction (books, movies)!
    Another of the books of this sort, and unfortunately I read it too, is "A beautiful disaster" and am appalled at how many young women were raving about it! NO, just freaking NO!

    And of course, yet again, I have to offer words of admiration for sharing your awful experience; let's hope it can inspire at least someone to see things as they are and help them break free.


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