50 Shade of Grey. In my opinion the most significant factor to the book’s success is that America is a largely repressed society and a society of duplicitous proportions that operates under mythological premises. It’s about putting on aires, everyone’s an actor. No one’s having sex but there is a multi-billion dollar porn business. No one curses, no one smokes dope, no one has sex with prostitutes, everyone is equal.
It’s in this arena of tension that porn and books like 50 Shades thrive. No one wants to openly admit that they are into bondage or that they’re into sado-masochism but it’s perfectly ok to read a book that contains those elements because it’s safe and it doesn’t place the readers own inner repressed desires into the spotlight. The reader doesn’t have to get their hands dirty.
Art has often served as the perfect vehicle and expression for societal repression and tension. The current obsession with the zombie trope is a great example of that.
The perfect metaphor for America’s duplicitous overworked, underpaid, repressed society are those “massage parlors” that are open 24-7 with their neon lights beckoning the lonely and sexually repressed to it’s doors like flies to a night light. It’s all out there, you just have to look for it.
It would be interesting to see how that book did in a place like Europe where in most places prostitution and small quantities of drugs are legal and you can watch tv shows during primetime viewing on network television where they say the word “fuck” and when people take a shower you see them naked.
These are of course things that would send Americans in an uproar and serve as rhetorical cannon fodder for its equally repressed religious zealots.
I think Europeans would find the 50 Shades novels rather blasé and trite. Classless even. That type of literature has been standard fare for decades- and done better. A man named D.H. Lawrence did it in 1928 with much more class and literary skill with a little known book called “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”. I heard it did “alright”.