Shakespeare or Hardy or even Barbara Cartland it isn't, but Fifty Shades of Grey - the story of how shy, virginal college student Anastasia Steele enters into a relationship with the mysterious magnate Christian Grey, who turns out to have a penchant for bondage and domination - has just become the fastest-selling paperback in history. Reports suggest James is earning $1.35 million in royalties each week, much of them from e-book sales, where the Fifty Shades phenomenon began.
The book is not just any bestseller, however: debate rages as to whether it is an entertaining diversion or a sinister users' guide for setting feminism back 100 years.
Author and sometime anti-feminist Katie Roiphe argued that ''working women'' are behind ''a renewed popular interest in the stylised theatre of female powerlessness'' and that all feminists harbour repressed fantasies of submission.
Feminist activist Jaclyn Friedman rebutted Roiphe and called for ''mainstream narratives inviting us to identify with women who like to dominate in bed ... women of colour and queer women as sexual heroines in control of their choices''.
Self-styled cultural commentators scramble to name this genre-fiction phenomenon: ''mummy porn'', ''clit-lit''. Noted bastion of good taste Bret Easton Ellis wants to make the movie adaptation.
And yet on buses and trains worldwide, people keep reading about suave Mr Grey and awkward, virginal Anastasia and all their terrible, terrible sex scenes: ''Pulling off his boxer briefs, his erection springs free. Holy cow!''
Holy cow, indeed. Yes, Fifty Shades of Grey has some howlingly bad sexy prose - though it also, in Ana's inner monologue, has a rather charming lightness - but is its popularity one of the signs of the impending feminist apocalypse? I'm not so sure.
It seems a little generous to suggest that James (the pen name of Erika Leonard) set out to dismantle decades of good work done by women's liberation activists when she wrote Fifty Shades (and its second and third volumes, the hastily cranked-out Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed). Leonard is on record as saying of her books, ''This is my midlife crisis, writ large. All my fantasies in there, and that's it.''
Full story at stuff.co.nz