Book Review: Fifty Shames Of Earl Grey

Fifty Shames Of Earl Grey:  A Parody, by Fanny Merkin (aka Andrew Shaffer)

One of the most obvious but seldom asked questions when it comes to books is do they need to exist?  Does this book have a worth or a purpose that makes it worth spending time on?  This question does not have an obvious affirmative answer.  To be sure, the book is funny, but it is funny in an extremely crude way–crude both in its deliberately poor writing as well as in its content.  In many ways, this book is the literary equivalent of bad parody songs that focus on crude and broad humor, or those terrible parody films that attempt to deliberately skewer existing bad films.  It certainly does its job, but was its job worth doing in the first place?  This book is a parody of a novel that was originally a fanfiction of another novel, which was itself almost already at the level of self-parody.  Given this illustrious pedigree, the work would appear to be almost superfluous in the first place, except that both the work that this book is a parody of and the work that the fanfiction is based off of were both immensely popular books that spawned sequels and that had immensely popular film series based on them.  This may be shooting fish in a barrel, but the fish are lucrative on an economic level if not elevated in a moral or literary level, and so this book exists.

The plot of this book, such as it is, is almost too laughable and ridiculous to detail.  A virginal college student who is said to live in Portland but also go to Washington State and fills in for her roommate in doing an interview about a sexy billionaire that has predictable consequences. (Does the author know that Portland is in Oregon?  Is he trying to avoid talking about WSU-Vancouver, or even acknowledging that the city exists because it would be confusing compared to Vancouver, BC?  He seems to like making fun of Portland, more evidence of his love for easy targets.)  Most of the rest of the book consists of various attempts by the titular Earl Grey to sabotage his potential for happiness by being insecure and pouty and overly ashamed at things that are not all that big of a deal, such as appreciating Nickelback or having a fondness for erotic live-action roleplay.  There are a lot of jokes made in the midst of the plot and Earl Grey uses his billions rather profligately to keep naive Anna Steal in his life, and not all of the jokes stick, but there are enough attempts at humor that those readers who are not entirely disgusted by it will find something to laugh at.

Yet it feels uncharitable to laugh at this novel, because one recognizes that its existence is itself a sign of a certain decadence that allowed the novel that this book is a parody of to become such a cultural force that it attracted people looking to cash in on parodies.  Laughing at this book is like laughing at a tumor that has disfigured someone’s face, it is not only cruel and unkind but it also serves to distract one’s attention from the fact that the tumor in question should not be laughed at but removed, if possible, for the sake of the well-being of the patient in question.  And that is, in general, the reason why this parody doesn’t work as well as the author wants it to.  The difficulty level of constructing a parody of contemporary bestselling mommy porn like Fifty Shades Of Gray is like that of clubbing baby seals, and clubbing baby seals tends to inspire people to feel bad about their cruelty rather than feeling that they have accomplished something great.  So it is when it comes to writing parodies of literature that is already a self-parody of literature–it can be easily done, but it is worth doing in the first place?

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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