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BAD SEX WRITING

SHE IS A SUBMISSIVE READER OF EL JAMES
In today's Sunday Times Culture section, there is a dismissive review of the latest E.L. James novel, Grey, which as you already know follows the 125 million-selling paperback trilogy about S&M, naïve virgins, haunted billionaires, and contractual sexual punishments and rewards. Rather wittily following on from Freud, it implies that what women "really want" is very badly written prose. On the same page, there is a review of the "traditional" light-verse popular British poet and crime novelist (she did the new Agatha Christie and an anthology of Sex poetry) Sophie Hannah, and it is of course a slim volume of selected and new poems that here is offered, from Carcanet.

One of these books has sold a million copies or so already, the other, in all likelihood (and even given the charm, talent and fame of the poet as prose writer), will sell a few hundred, perhaps a few thousand.  If one believes, as I do, that intelligent poetry represents the deep end of the swimming pool, and pulp paperback best-seller porn the shallow end, then, this summer - as in all seasons - we must reflect on which end is more packed with readers/ bathers, and be sad. 99.9% of books that sell are genre best-sellers. Some, such as those by Lee Child, are well-crafted, but those by James are so far as I can tell, barely literate. Yet they have made this non-entity and no-talent a very rich person, while deeply talented, long-suffering literary artists will mostly live impoverished or financially trying lives for decades if not forever.

Why why why? It is like being King Lear, and wondering at the human condition. But it is worse, because writers are at least meant to know how to write, about the human condition among other things. I am not a prude, and not a literary moralist in the ordinary sense (like Greene, another Catholic, I understand that writing is most ethical which most engages with all of human life, especially the question of evil). I welcome erotic novels. But need they be so badly-written? The odd thing is, there are about a thousand, no maybe ten thousand, erotic novels out there at the moment, online and so forth, and many must be the equal or better of Grey, but while they may sell a handful, their peer will sell millions.  Who is to blame? The media? Human curiosity?

Has the net's gratuitous promiscuous breaking of borders allowed the lone wolf killer and the lone wolf writer both to thrive? A thousand points of light my arse. We are all now connected to do each other harm, use each other, show off, show feigned interest, and try and sell shit to each other. Bad sex writing is not as bad as bad sex - or perhaps it is. Read more poetry. Even sex poetry. But you already knew that.



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