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Book club - review

Expressionless E L James is bemused by talk of sexting, writes Antonia Quirke.

Book club

Magic FM

On Magic FM’s book club (15 July, 7pm), the host, Angie Greaves, is clucking. “Welcome to this wonderful young lady,” she coos, putting a comfy arm around her 49-year-old interlocutor – E L James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey. Why the intensely protective vibe? James has just been named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world! Greaves clearly wants it to be known that that E L is among friends and yet still E L is way suspicious.

“Would this be because of journalists or public?” needles Greaves. “Journalists,” confesses E L, her voice strangely expressionless, “they’re a little bit erm . . .” Angie experiences a flash of sympathetic irritation. “Let’s just quickly deal with these journalists, OK?” she says, confidingly. “When something like this goes global, you’re just going to get a lot of negative. How do you handle that?” Still expressionless, E L shrugs. “I don’t read anything. I read nothing.” A faint tap of metal on wood.

Anyone who saw James’s recent appearance on the American chat show The View will have seen that she wears a book-keeper’s oblong glasses, paired with masses of dark hair and racks of gold bangles like Mr Rochester dressed as the fortune teller, and emits a peeved atmosphere, although to be fair she could just be freaked out (19 million copies  – the figures beggar belief.) “I gotta confess I was reading this and sexting my husband at the same time,” screams one of the hosts, the actress Sherri Shepherd, throwing her head back and emitting a waft of Beyoncé’s “Heat Rush” (top note:  Brazilian cherry). “I really don’t wanna know this,” sighs co-host Whoopi Goldberg.

James looks like she really doesn’t want to know it either, adjusting her glasses and regarding Shepherd a little like a university housing administrator who has come to assess some digs and having picked her way across a carpet is now removing an apple core from one of the armchairs. Her expression is pure smelling salts. Too late, E L. Wave goodbye to the hinterland! Feel the hen-night-leer rain down. (On Magic’s website, “retired but not tired” logs on and posts, sinisterly, “just downloaded the trilogy to my ebook. am reading while husband is planting spring crop. is he in for a surprise”).


Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4. She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 July 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Age of Crisis