Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES! Ignore my panting exultations, please excuse my clammy hands, but this is such exciting news from the world of words.
For after six books, three Hollywood films and countless thrashings in the red room of pain, the author E.L. James has put down her throbbing pen for good.
You could say that she has finally reached a climax, tied up her ending and sailed off into a sunset that is coloured Fifty Shades Of Grey.
Freed, published this week, is the long-awaited final part of the Fifty Shades series, which has sold over 165 million copies around the world. It is an incredible success!
Only Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling have sold more books than E.L. James. But surely even she could not wring another drop of sweat-drenched passion from her lovers Christian and Anastasia and their trussed-up adventuring, which has become a global phenomenon.
Pictured: A still of Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey
To her devoted fans, James is the mistress of mummy porn, an author whose whip-cracking bondage bonkbusters are adored and revered. They were even turned into a trio of smash-hit Hollywood films, shot in full screen buttockarama and starring Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson as his pliant lover, Anastasia Steele.
Yet to purists and snobs — like me! — Miss James is responsible for some of the most deathless prose ever to make it into print. And part of her genius is that she does not disappoint any of us with her new book.
Yet again she has created a carnal but corny world in which characters are ‘wound up tighter than an old-fashioned watch’ and arousal is measured by tongues that ‘greet each other in every language’.
Pictured: A still from the trailer of Fifty Shades Darker starring Marcia Gay Harden
Not to mention — apologies in advance — nipples that ‘lengthen’ and sometimes even ‘pebble’. SHRIEK! People not only do terrible things in her books, they say terrible things, too. ‘Now that’s my idea of Sunday worship,’ says Christian, after a bit of weekend rumpy-pumpy. Honestly. If you have been praying for it all to end, then your prayers have been answered.
Freed is the last chapter in the six-book series chronicling the relationship between the handsome, sadomasochistic, Seattle-based billionaire Christian and the demure but captivatingly beautiful Anastasia.
They met, married and now have a child called Teddy — and give or take a few rubber clamps — that is about the gist of it. The first three books were told from her perspective, while the last three tell the same story, but from his point of view.
Pictured: E.L. James (Erika Leonard) attending the premiere of Fifty Shades Darker in 2017
Has that authorial gender switch been really successful? Is Grey’s take on events entirely authentic and believable? E.L. James might like to think she can write from a male viewpoint and inhabit every psychosexual crevice of Grey.
However, would your everyday male bondage freak even know what a dream catcher was, let alone describe his fiancée as one, as Christian does on the opening page of Freed? Or pause to note on page 425 that the lamb chops from the Greek deli were ‘transferred into a Pyrex bowl’ at the exact moment when his ‘lust surges like a tidal wave, south’?
I do wonder. Especially as that was mere seconds before Christian wrangled Anastasia into a pair of leather cuffs and a blindfold before feeding her ‘the best hummus in Seattle’. What that girl has to go through to get a bite to eat! No wonder her pittas were toasted. I suppose a baklava is out of the question? Stop it.
Freed begins with the pair of them blissed out in a boatshed, following a celebratory bout of lovemaking following his proposal of marriage, which she accepted.
‘Come, put your panties back on and let’s get back to the party,’ he says, in typical cringe-making fashion. But not before the author gives him a fresh spring clean with the woke feather duster.
His character is perhaps the most toxic male since Casanova, but all of a sudden he is talking about re-purposing the party flower bower by sending the blooms off to an old folks’ home. So green and kindly!
Many chapters later he compliments Anastasia on her post-baby body. ‘She has lost weight since Ted’s birth and I know she wants to lose more, but to me she is as lovely as ever,’ he thoughtfully notes. Then it is straight back to peeling off her clothes and giving her a good old thrashing.
Grey is gratifyingly obsessed with his fiancee’s hair, which is ‘wild and glossy in the morning light’ and later ‘tumbles around us both, creating a chestnut haven’. As always the main thrust — excuse me — is their sexual relationship, so fevered at times that Grey’s manhood is almost a character all of its own. I mean, by the end of the book you’d buy it a drink in a bar, if only you knew its name.
At various junctures throughout the 755-page narrative it is impatient, heavy, bursting and eager. Sometimes it is ‘still clothed’. Now and again it is ‘sated’ or ‘serviced’ —thank goodness for that. Elsewhere, it is ‘bursting in anticipation’ and occasionally it is ‘straining’, because those potatoes aren’t going to rinse themselves.
Sometimes it ‘rejoices’, sometimes it ‘springs free’, sometimes it is ‘approving’. Sometimes you think it is going to walk into Grey’s favourite sushi restaurant and order some spicy tuna rolls, all by itself. No one would be surprised if it did.
Yet Fifty Shades deniers can mock all they like — the figures speak for themselves. Translated into 52 languages, the initial erotic trilogy captured the imagination of women around the world — so much so that the publishers even lay claim to a baby boom — a ‘greyby boom’, with record numbers of babies born in February 2013.
E.L. James veered from the Christian Grey path briefly. In 2019 she released a novel called The Mister, which featured a Cornish aristocrat who fell in love with his demure but captivatingly beautiful Albanian cleaning lady, as one does.
The Honourable Maxim Trevelyan, aka Lord Trevelyan, the 13th Earl of Trevethick, had a winning way with women (‘As you wish, I growl and thrust inside her’), but he was no Grey. It wasn’t long before she returned to the goldmine that began as an exercise in escapism on her commute into London over ten years ago.
And went on to turn her into one of the richest authors in the world, now said to be worth more than £120 million — a fortune generated not just by the books and films but the Fifty Shades merchandise, ranging from lingerie and jewellery to whips and bottles of wine, which the author herself personally helped to design.
Perhaps the secret of this incredible success lies in the fact that underneath the spankings and the bondage, Fifty Shades has a very conventional romantic narrative.
E.L. James knows what her readers want — Cinderella for a more sexualised age. In many respects, it is nothing new, for Freed — like all her books — boasts every rom-com cliche in the book.
Christian Grey is not only dark and dangerous, but a troubled man with emotional wounds. He is broken and Anastasia is the only one who can fix him. On the surface she is strong and self-contained, but also harbours doubts about herself and her attractiveness.
She is a vehicle for the insecurities of millions of women; a conduit for the old-fashioned desire for a dominant male, a knight in shining armour to sweep us off our feet and rescue us from our humdrum lives. Fifty Shades is nothing more than a fairy tale with added spanks. Will Freed finally free us all from the adventures of our broken hero and his oddly eagersome wife? For six books and three films they have been through a lot.
He has survived a helicopter crash, she has somehow survived his cockpit.
From terrible beginning to cringe-fest ending, they remain still crazy about each other after all these years.
‘You are the three wishes from Aladdin’s lamp, the state lottery and the cure for cancer rolled into one,’ Anastasia tells him as the curtain comes down at last.
‘No Ana, you are,’ says Grey.
And they lived happily ever after. We hope.
FREED: Fifty Shades Freed As Told By Christian by E.L. James is published this week by Arrow at £8.99.