You probably know the one I mean. Have you read it?
Fifty Shades of Grey is a publishing sensation, and has been selling like crazy this spring (along with the other two books in the trilogy). I tend to avoid reading books that are so wildly popular, because invariably, I don’t like them much and can’t understand why they are popular. That Fifty Shades developed out of fanfiction about Twilight didn’t send me running to the bookstore either – I didn’t “get” Twilight. But I did read 50 Shades this week, and laughed when my reaction was much the same as my reaction to Twilight. I thought it was boring. Don’t laugh, but I expected there to be a lot more sex. I found myself flipping through the pages, looking for the “good bits”, just as I did when I read Twilight.
So, it’s not for me – or I’m not its audience – and that’s not really a surprise. It doesn’t matter either – it works for a whole lot of people and that’s great for the author.
It’s not that I don’t like erotic romance or even BDSM romance, but for me, Anne Rampling’s Exit to Eden is the benchmark for books in that subgenre. (Anne Rampling is a pseudonym of Anne Rice.) What I like about EtoE is that it’s a partnership of equals – both the heroine and hero are into the BDSM scene; both think they know what they want; both are surprised to fall in love. Both have to compromise and reconsider in order to win their HEA. It’s a wonderful, dimensional romance – the BDSM elements are considerable, but the focus is on the characters. (They did make a movie of it, but it’s supposed to be a comedy. Read the book.)
The thing is that no matter what kind of romances I read, I’m not much for the storyline of older, rich, successful hero shaping the expectations of the innocent, young, virginal heroine. In fact, that extends to all kinds of stories: I was talking with a friend about Shakespearean plays a while back and told her that MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is my favourite of his plays, for precisely the same reason. MAAN has two entwined romances: a conventional one between Hero and Claudio , and an unconventional one between Beatrice and Benedict. Hero is the young virginal beauty, and Claudio is the young idealistic soldier – they fall in love at first glance. They look good together, but I don’t think they know much about each other beyond that. In contrast, Beatrice is the unwed woman “past her prime” (maybe she’s 30) while Benedict is roughly her contemporary and a confirmed bachelor. They’ve met before and are in the habit of matching both wits and insults. Both Beatrice and Benedict are old enough to know what they want and to speak their respective minds to each other. I enjoy the fireworks between them a great deal, and find their eventual HEA much more satisfying as a result. I suspect that Beatrice and Benedict will be much happier over the long term than Hero and Claudio, but maybe that’s just me. (If you don’t know this play, there’s a wonderful movie version of it starring Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson.)
The other BSDM romance series that stands out from the crowd for me is also by Anne Rice – written under another pseudonym A.N. Roquelaire – which is her Beauty trilogy. That has some wonderful fairy tale elements and worldbuilding, in addition to the erotic romance. (I think it’s being republished this year.) Her four books are classics in erotic romance, and for good reason. (She wrote a fifth as Rampling called Belinda but I’ve never read it. If I tell you it features a young virginal heroine and an older hero, you’ll know why.)
Did you read 50 Shades? Did you like it? Have you read Anne Rice’s erotic romances? Have you read any other BDSM/erotic romances that you really liked? Do you, like me, see any commonality in the kinds of romances you like to read, regardless of sub-genre?