A Tale of Two Novels

Last week I did it.  Much later than everyone else, admittedly, but it is the action that counts. I decided to find out whether my friends– many of them writers – are literary snobs or just jealous of one E.L.James’ success. So I decided to read Fifty Shades of Grey. I am undoubtedly jealous of E.L.’s instant internet success so I was never going to buy any of the copies of the trilogy even though they were retailing for KSh200 (that’s about R20 to you South Africans) each on the street. So I did the next best thing. I borrowed my neighbour’s copy. I had promised myself that I would read it to the end. And if it turned out not to be as bad as my friends claimed, I would even secretly read the other two in the trilogy.

It was the longest five days of my life.

I get that university students nowadays are supposed to be vacuous. Really, I do. But if the book’s heroine was as much a fan of literature as the writer wants us to believe, surely she could find another word besides ‘hot’? Every page had the word ‘hot’ on it, whether in describing Mr. Gray, the sex they had, the borrowed dress the protagonist wore, or Mr. Gray’s house. How hot were the descriptions? So hot they left me cold. I was, however, grateful to myself that I took time to read Fifty Shades of Grey. I was thankful because I had been suffering from a low self-esteem after a rejection of one of my manuscripts by an agent. Fifty Shades of Grey raised my esteem back up and indeed, put me in danger of being egotistical. My thinking being, if a lot of people were stupid enough to read and recommend that book to anyone, there may yet be hope for my better written manuscripts.

Every once in a while I encounter someone who says smugly ‘I don’t read books.’ And I get them a book that will result in smug non-reader becoming an avid reader. Fifty Shades is that book that would result in an avid reader deciding that they will no longer read contemporary fiction. But I am made of sterner stuff and Fifty Shades was not going to put me off all the writers of my generation.

A few days later I received a copy of Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls. This fast-paced thriller of a time-travelling serial killer set in Chicago shows that Cape Town residing Beukes did a lot of research about the city of Chicago throughout the years. But fortunately for the reader, Beukes does not bog us down with trying to show off how much research she did but instead weaves the details effortlessly into her narrative. The book was a page-turner and were it not for my pesky child who claimed he was hungry – why he could not eat at the neighbours, I do not know – I would have finished the book in one sitting. Instead I finished it in two. When I was done, I wanted to step outside and tell everyone I encountered to buy The Shining Girls.  But it was two in the morning and I was not likely to meet anyone. So I wrote a status update on Facebook instead.

So thank you Ms. Beukes for The Shining Girls.

And Ms.-Whatever-Your-Real-Name-Is of Fifty Shades – no more ink to your pen. Stop writing, dammit. Your book sucks.