Fifty Shades of Grey – a distraction

“Have you read this book,” asked my patient, her eyes lighting up. Bending down she enthusiastically extracts a dog-eared, battered book from her designer handbag. ”All my friends have read it. Even my mother-in-law couldn’t put it down.” Catching a glimpse of the black and grey cover, I smiled. AAAH………


OF course I’ve read it. But I was not about to admit that, like an addict desperate for a fix, I raced through all three books in the trilogy within a week, downloading them onto my i-pad often at 2am when the rest of the house was asleep. I was riveted!

“Well, doctor, so what do you think of it? ”

I giggled, looked away and then proceeded, very methodically, in my doctor’s voice, to dissect it for her…

For those who have not read it, ”Fifty shades of Grey” is an erotic novel, the first of a trilogy written by British female writer E.L James. Anastasia Steele is the educated, but sexually inexperienced heroine. The male in question who leads to her “awakening” is the emotionally flawed, extremely wealthy, drop dead gorgeous and sometimes cruel ChristianGrey.

The story revolves around their tempestuous relationship. Sexual scenes are graphic. The story line deals with control in a relationship; sexual and emotional domination and submission; rape and love.

Reading ‘Fifty Shades’ is like reading a “Mills and Boon” romance novel that is a bit twisted and kinky. At times it is badly written. Repetition of whole areas is commonplace.

Email conversations between the characters often lack imagination and is boring. Annoyingly, in the second and third books, scenes are similar. This is exasperating and disappointing. Yet there is this compulsion to read it. How will it all end?

Taking even the author by surprise, the combined novels have sold over 70 million copies worldwide. In the United Kingdom, it set the record as the fastest selling paperback of all time. This has catapulted E.L. James to the top of the Forbes list of highest earning authors, with earnings in excess of 95 million dollars. The movie rights have been sold for an estimated 5 million dollars. By the time this article is printed, the movie would have been released in South Africa, timed to coincide with Valentine’s Day.

The books have generated much discussion. Critics from a feminist background are of the opinion that “Fifty Shades” perpetuates and masks domestic violence, romanticises abuse and clouds the issue of what constitutes consensual sex. They argue that stories of abuse go on every day in our communities, churches, places of work, schools and towns. Cloaking these horrors in clichés and metaphors found in “Fifty Shades” simply make us blind and numb to the ugly realities. This is not a book about sex.

On the other hand, despite all the harsh criticism, it is a highly entertaining read. It feeds into the fantasy that many women want of being swept off their feet. It is not only about the degradation of women. It can be seen as very empowering too: there is nothing wrong with carving out some much needed “me” time in order to be entertained.


Then make up your own mind!!

So you may ask. What is the relevance of this article; in this, a magazine focussed on breast cancer? Why is a gynaecologist writing this?

In our everyday lives, we may be coming to terms with a recent breast cancer diagnosis; or faced with having to make decisions about treatment options; or even just looking to read something interesting during a chemo session to take away the thoughts about the nausea to come. You may be in a clinic waiting room waiting for your loved one to  wake up from her mastectomy or finish her radiotherapy. You may be a nurse, caregiver, friend or doctor of someone with breast cancer. Sometimes dealing with all this seriousness can weigh you down. There is nothing like a distraction to give you new perspective, energy and vigour!


Dr Sumayya Ebrahim is a gynaecologist in private practice in Johannesburg. She is also a blogger. Check out her blog “vaginations by Dr E” on