Columns > Published on September 14th, 2012

Return of the Bonkbuster

If you’re feeling all Fifty Shades of Grey'ed out, the bad news is that the feeding frenzy has not yet abated. A film version is in the works and rumor has it that Ryan Gosling has been offered a sufficiently tempting deal (probably including his own luxury mansion on the Moon) to sign up for the part of Christian Grey.

Inevitably, book publishers are waving check books and pens at anyone who shows the ability to string together a sentence which includes the words ‘handcuffs', ‘riding crop’ and ‘my inner Goddess’. But even dreck takes time to write and some have copped to the fact that there is a faster way to exploit the craze. With the realization that sex was not invented last year, some companies are combing their backlists for steamy material they can reissue.

Anne Rice's BDSM take on Sleeping Beauty received a rerelease earlier this summer and next off the blocks is Lace, reissued by Canongate. First published in 1982, Lace has everything FSoG lacks: interesting characters, a recognizable plot, exotic locales and baby prostitutes. Also goldfish apparently (don’t ask me how or where the goldfish figure – I have read the book, but my inner censor has inexplicably deleted that scene). But Lace is only one of a huge and sprawling genre - the 'Bonkbuster' - which dominated the bookshelves in the 1970s and 80s. Below, my survey of the other bonkbusters we might see making a comeback, along with my scored assessment of their chances of repeating Fifty Shades's success.

Scruples by Judith Krantz

Summary: This tale of ugly duckling Billy Winthrop, who loses her puppy fat by living in France (where hamburgers are illegal), acquires a fortune by marrying an old, rich guy, and decides to soothe her widowhood by opening a huge department store full of fancy French clothes (because nowhere else in the whole of the US sells French clothes) was a gigantic hit when it was published in 1978. Scruples sold 4.6 million copies in two years, spawned a miniseries starring Lindsay Wagner (then riding high as the Bionic Woman) and taught a generation of women that if a guy wants to do it doggy style he is a closet gay.

Classic Line: “Billy knew perfectly well, as she walked into the General Store or Dorso's or Saks, that she was falling into the classic occupation of rich idle women: buying supremely unnecessary clothes to feed, but never fill, the emptiness within. It's that or get fat again, she told herself, as she walked up Rodeo or down Camden, feeling a sexual buzz as she searched the windows for new merchandise.”

Assessment: A new Scruples miniseries starring Clare Forlani is in the works and doubtless a book reissue will coincide with its release. The book contains plenty of sex, but the social attitudes (man-hating lesbians, aforementioned closet gays, women who get where they are by marrying rich dudes) are dated. But the centerpiece of the story is a shop and that, in these days of the virtual trolley, might hold a certain, nostalgic appeal.


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Riders by Jilly Cooper

Summary: A quintessentially British take on the bonkbuster, Riders appeared in 1984, but merits inclusion here because Jilly Cooper actually wrote the book in 1970, only to leave the manuscript on the bus. Thankfully for horse lovers, she eventually got over her loss and reproduced her stirring tale of Olympic showjumpers and the people who ride them. And each other.

Classic line: "For a small, slight man, Jake was sexually well endowed, but he spent enough time fingering a spot which Tory afterwards discovered was her clitoris, and she was so slippery with longing that she hardly felt any pain after that first sharp thrust inside her."

Assessment: All those riding crops are promising, but disappointingly, in Riders only the horses take a beating. The whole thing is rather too polite and British for a breakout of mass hysteria of Shades proportion, although the fact that Cooper based her anti-hero Rupert Campbell-Black on Andrew Parker-Bowles, ex husband of Prince Charles’ wife Camilla, might boost sales if someone figures out how to spin it without getting sued by the British Royal Family.


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The Falconhurst Series by Kyle Onstott, Lance Horner et al

Summary: A spin off from the massively successful Mandingo, the Falconhurst series was originally authored by Onstott and his ghost, Horner, and was eventually continued by at least two other writers through the 1970s and 80s. The books center on the Hammond family and their eponymous slave plantation, a place where the only question anyone asks about anyone else is exactly what shade of brown they are. Skin color is an obsession in Falconhurst, that and giving uppity blacks a sound thrashing. Along with the Chronicles of Gor (see below) the Falconhurst books are probably the only bestsellers on the planet where characters use the word ‘wench’ with a totally straight face.

Classic line: “He would have to get used to the whiteness of female flesh. Its pallor seemed to him not quite healthy, somehow leprous, cold. He knew the beauty of blondeness, but failed to appreciate it. He knew, moreover, that if he was to have a wife he would have to tolerate that she was white.” (Use of body paint was obviously not an option back in those days.)

Assessment: while whipping and raping women appears to still be socially acceptable, whipping black people for sexual kicks isn’t. Although some good ol’ boys are still reeling at the fact that one of ‘them’ could somehow manage to hoodwink his way into the White House, most of the rest of the population would like to consign slavery to the collective cultural dumpster. And a good thing too.


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Chronicles of Gor  by John Norman

Summary: written by Philosophy professor John Lange under a pen-name, the Chronicles of Gor consists of 32 books, published between 1967 and 2008, with the majority appearing during the 70s and 80s. They take place on the Counter-Earth planet of Gor, a place where, conveniently, high technology meets medieval weapons and a mild climate means no one has to wear much clothing. There’s a loose plot arc involving an insectile uber-race, but basically Gor is about swordsmanship. Both kinds. And although Lange never shies away from euphemism (a penis is always a ‘manhood’ on Gor), the underlying philosophy is a GOP wet dream of muscley men clashing blades and Earth women discovering true contentment by being made into rape-slaves.

Classic line: "It is the nature of the female to submit; accordingly, it is natural that, when she is forced to acknowledge, accept, express and reveal this nature, that she should be almost deliriously joyful, and thankful, to her master; she has been taught her womanhood."

Assessment: With the recent success of cloak-and-warg epic Game of Thrones, a marketing push for Gor (all the books are still in print) seems inevitable. Plus, as hinted above, the series plays to the current right wing ‘women’s vaginas are the property of rich white men’ agenda. A mini-series starring Chuck Norris is a near-certainty.


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Don't be shy. What are some of your favorite bonkbusters?

About the author

Cath Murphy is Review Editor at and cohost of the Unprintable podcast. Together with the fabulous Eve Harvey she also talks about slightly naughty stuff at the Domestic Hell blog and podcast.

Three words to describe Cath: mature, irresponsible, contradictory, unreliable...oh...that's four.

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