Fifty shades of red-faced

Ahlya Fateh
Ahlya Fateh
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I admit it, I am a lover of all things romantic – it is a position that doesn’t fit so well with the hard-earned persona of a Teflon-coated business woman (and that’s just my hair) so I tend to keep quiet about it. Until recently all my dog eared blockbusters were kept hidden away while only the classics and highbrow stuff made it to my shelves. I have always maintained that anyone who has read the complete works of Dostoevsky in the original Russian (I have) deserves a little light relief and that has continued to be my justification for the large amount of literary trash that I get through on a weekly basis. I used to use the commute to work as my secret reading time until a woman shamed me by reading out the title of the foil-blocked-inch-thick tome I was so engrossed in. My cover was blown for good and I was never seen in public with anything less than a Booker nominated worthy piece of fiction to ensure that I was never humiliated in the same way.

Then God invented Kindle and iBooks and Blue Fire and Kobo and all the romance in the world was available to me at the stroke of my finger (my iPhone, please we haven’t got to that part yet!). So, once I ascertained that Fifty Shades of Grey wasn’t a paint chart I too decided to download E.L. James’ updated Mills & Boon and see what all the fuss was about. After all, I was the intended target market – married with two kids, over-worked and too exhausted to remember what true love or true lust was all about. It struck a chord with many across the world and found fans in the Middle East who succumbed to the hype, although controversy still arose in the UAE over whether the first book was banned, despite popular bookshops stocking it.

It took me about a day to get through it, muttering to myself as only someone who has edited a ton of copy in her life can, about the dreadful grammar, repetition and how many times Anastasia rolled her eyes (73 – trust me I’ve done the leg work).

What does interest me most is the fact that these books were written by a woman for women

Ahlya Fateh

And then... I succumbed and the next thing I knew it was Sunday and I had gone “Darker” and emerged “Freed,” blinking as I took in the domestic scene around me. Everyone else seemed to have had a normal weekend compared to me who would never again consider Red a suitable color for any room in my house, especially as it was now linked with the word Pain!

So to sum up for those of you who don’t make up the 40 million people who have bought or downloaded the book – it is the age old story of young virgin who is seduced by an older and very rich man only to use her innocence to mend his damaged soul. It’s now being turned into a flick, a flick with dodgy features already, such as Victoria Beckham designing the costumes for the film; kind of ironic as the characters are naked in most parts of the book!

Let’s be honest

The real reason we all read them was for the sex; you can wax lyrical about how Christian really loves his Ana but when it comes down to it, and there is a lot of it in the books, that is what has shifted this story into the history books. What is more interesting is how popular culture is shaded Grey at every turn, not a day goes by without some story breaking that is directly related to the series. Whether it is the mind boggling allegation that it is the most popular reading material for detainees at Guantanamo Bay or that London’s fire men are being called out at an alarming rate to deal with “hand cuff” emergencies – it is all grist to the E.L. James behemoth that shows no sign of slowing down.

What does interest me most though is the fact that these books were written by a woman for women and women have voted in their millions that they not only have enjoyed the trilogy but they are using the books as more than escapist fantasy. Romantic fiction has always been looked down upon as derivative or less worthy than other forms of popular fiction, but consumers have embraced the 50 ways, whether to inject a little more va va voom in their own love lives or to wallow in nostalgia and remember when their other halves used to leave them breathless. So, embrace your inner Anastasia ladies and hopefully your Christian Grey won’t be far behind. Save a thought for all our friends in the UAE who read the first book only to find that Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed have been banned, with the film being unlikely to make it to Middle East’s box offices either. Talk about Grey Interruptus!


With extensive publishing experience and significant knowledge of the fashion, retail and luxury industries, Ahlya Fateh is currently a highly regarded senior executive who combines a strong creative vision with an astute strategic understanding and exceptional management skills. In 2010 Ahlya was brought in by Tata Naka as Managing Director to re-launch the fashion brand at London Fashion Week. Previously Ahlya was Managing Editor of Tatler magazine from 2001 to 2010.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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