Consider this an upfront apology. It turns out even in the Mail & Guardian newsroom we are not immune to populist smut. Early this week, rumours were circulating that "some" people in our office were actually reading the wildly popular Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.
After only a small amount of goading, four brave women raised their hands (some in shame, others with enthusiasm) and agreed to give us their thoughts on the book. They weren't those mommies that are supposedly devouring EL James's bondage-for-beginners – all of our "reviewers" are childless women under 30 – and they all had different reactions. We hope you will appreciate this reader service: our low-brow porn tendencies should allow you to experience the book without actually having to read it. – Tanya Pampalone, features editor
For the last week all I have been hearing about are these books. I didn't want to read it; the very thought of cover to cover smut made me blush – I can't even peek at the back of a Mills and Boons novel. But when I heard Ryan Gosling might be starring in the movie adaptation, I bought a copy. Not a real copy mind you, the ebook. Heaven forbid, someone finds it lying around in my bedroom! I'm not that kind of girl, you know.
As I started reading I thought: "This isn't too bad, it's just like Twilight." Then I got to the bits everyone was talking about and I slammed the cover of my iPad shut in horror.
It was nothing like the vampire-meets-girl novel. And I hadn't even reached the scenes with the BDSM in it yet.
After regaining my composure I picked it up again. "You have to do this, Zeenat. In the name of biology."
After finishing the first book, I downloaded the other two. Just don't tell my dad. – Zeenat Mahomed, M&G control freak
The Jaded One
Call me jaded, but Fifty Shades didn't do it for me. The sex scenes were uninspired and completely unrealistic – any woman will tell you that having a simultaneous orgasm with your partner doesn't happen on a daily basis, if at all.
Having read them, I'm quite shocked that they've become so popular. Well, I read two-and-a-half of them. When I started skipping sex scenes because they were so boring, I figured I had no reason to keep reading.
The BDSM "scenes"? Don't make me laugh. Maybe these books are meant to be read by virgins, because surely those are the only people on this earth that could be shocked by spanking and butt plugs, just like the protagonist. The demonising of Christian Grey for being into that sort of thing is just part of the reason these books do more harm than good. BDSM isn't only practiced by people who were abused as children. And they certainly shouldn't be treated for it so they can have "healthy" relationships.
So my advice? Save the few hours you'll spend reading about bad sex and go have some good sex of your own. I'm sure you've figured out a way to do it that makes you happy. – Ines Schumacher, M&G iPad goddess
The Fan Girl
While these books are centred on the world of BDSM, something too explicit for my sensibilities, I found it really easy to read and incredibly entertaining. The interaction between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele is sometimes sweet and most times weird.
Two polar opposites of each other in many aspects, the innuendo-filled quips on Christian's part left me laughing at Anastasia's ignorance and innocence. For the first couple of chapters, it's difficult not to notice or compare their meeting with that of the ever brooding Edward Cullen and exceptionally clumsy Bella Swan. And much of the books' "love scenes" left me red faced and wide eyed.
But it's the formidable CEO's ability to be playful and attentive that endeared me to him – despite the fact that he is 50 shades of screwed up. Watching him fight his nature to be something more for the woman he doesn't know he wants is very amusing and had me cheering him on in the end.
I laughed and cried alongside Anastasia as she tried to navigate and understand this very mercurial man and his constant mood changes. All in all I was fascinated by the books and couldn't put them down, reading most of it with a smirk on my face. – Tamarin Marshman, M&G sexcapade coordinator
The Sex Enthusiast
After reading Fifty Shades of Grey I offered thanks to Aphrodite. Not because I found my "inner goddess" – I found her at age 17.
Instead, I was grateful I have never experienced a lover who spoke like Christian Grey, because if I did I would be spending all my time correcting his grammar instead of biting my lip and saying "oh my".
When I eventually managed to stop crying because of the insipid writing, I skipped ahead to erotic bits that made all the girls shrilly exclaim: "You must read it!".
I was kept amused for a while by the scenes of leather and bondage, and I was even educated a little by Christian Grey's list of rules. But, while this might be fun for the conservative and fan girl, I got completely bored by the repetitive sex scenes – I can think of at least six other fun things to do with a piece of rope.
Besides that, I wasn't pleased that the girl wasn't the dominant. Now that would have given me something to do, and would have created a whole new meaning for "mommy porn". – Deshnee Subramany, M&G Online whipping girl