All Hype, No Substance

I wouldn’t recommend reading Fifty Shades of Grey unless you’re fatally bored and have exhausted all other options. The mania over this book is mainly due to sexual repression, and it's only redeeming quality is that it may help people to realize it's okay to have and explore different sexual proclivities.
Published:
Pros:
Easy read
Somewhat eye-opening
Cons:
Simple, often tedious writing
Flimsy characterization
Hypocritical themes
Rating by reviewer:
2
extremely useful review

About author

Since these are E.L. James' first books to be published, I have nothing to talk about besides the writing. My personal opinion as I read through Fifty Shades of Grey was that it sounded like fan fiction. I wasn’t surprised when I did a little research and found out that it was in fact developed as fan fiction to begin with. To emphasize my point, I’ve picked out a couple of passages which I believe are written exceptionally poorly.

"He moves down to my belly – his tongue circling my navel – following the path of the flogger and the fur... I moan. He’s kissing and sucking and nibbling... moving south... and then his tongue is there. At the junction of my thighs. I throw my head back and cry out as I almost detonate into orgasm..." (pg. 491)

This passage, though I can see how it cries 'sexy,' doesn’t get my blood pumping simply because of how it's written. "He’s kissing and sucking and nibbling" I think speaks for itself of how little James is thinking while scribbling down her fantasies. The abruptness and disjointedness of "At the junction of my thighs" strikes me as odd as well. I noticed a lot of big words in James’ writing, as if she were trying too hard to sound classy. Sometimes I had the feeling she went through her book with a thesaurus and just substituted words. 'Junction' is the meeting point where two things converge. I suppose it could be used to convey your lady bits, but even the word junction seems industrial and out-of-place, like she’s describing her genitalia as a railroad crossing. She explains her impending orgasm as a bomb about to “detonate,” which I suppose goes somewhat fluidly with the railroad description between her legs.

”The wait is crippling me, crippling me with a dark and tantalizing desire. I glance quickly around the subtly lit room; the cross, the table, the couch, the bench... that bed. It looms so large, and it’s made up with red satin sheets. Which piece of apparatus will he use?”

'Which piece of apparatus?' Well, being that apparatus is a complex instrument for a particular purpose, I assume James meant to say 'Which apparatus will he use?', because a piece of an apparatus would be to break down the thing itself. A piece of the apparatus that is the satin-sheeted bed would be one sheet or one bedpost. Unless she feared he would wrap her up in a sheet or hit her with a bedpost, I’m not sure how a piece of an apparatus fits into this scene.

”’We’ll take Charlie Tango.’
Oh, the helicopter of course, silly me. More flying... cool! I grin.” (pg. 483)

In my opinion, I believe this is the very worst line in the entirety of the book, because it reminds me vividly of the fan fiction I’ve read in the past. In one line, the main character’s emotions and actions are reduced to a girlish set of short phrases, separated only by commas, ellipses, and unnecessary exclamation points. Here, Ana sounds like a silly twelve-year-old who just remembered she had an exciting new toy.

I realize that I sound relentless, but I’m not the only one who believes James’ writing needs some serious development. The New Zealand Herald, Metro News Canada, The Chicago Tribune and many others describe the book as having awful descriptions and exceedingly clunky prose. Hopefully it’s obvious that artistically, James' series is not even near the realm we classify as literature, but perhaps she'll get close with some serious practice and consultation from veteran erotica writers and editors not employed by the far-too-lenient Vintage publishing branch.
    • Clunky writing

Content / Style / Audience

I will admit that when I first heard about Fifty Shades of Grey, I had to get my hands on it. I downloaded it on my Kindle and started reading it—and didn't stop for two days. I got sucked into the mania. I had to know what was going on in this popular, erotic story. When I was about a third of the way done with the book, I realized the significance. There were two major factors making this book a sensation: (1) plenty of kinky sex and (2) its blatant similarity to Twilight.

In this section, I will explain what the plot entails and who the book is for. In the Personal Comments section, I'll explain characterization. Overall, I hope you benefit from this unforgiving, transparent review.

Plot

It can be argued that the plot of Fifty Shades of Grey is really secondary to the sexual content it boasts of, but if you really look at it, the book does have development. There are some who believe is has no literary or artistic value and just doesn’t go anywhere. I can’t say I fully agree with the latter. I’ve determined that — aside from the sex — the main reason women get hooked on this series is because of one simple question:

What is wrong with Christian Grey?

Well, I’m not about to spoil that for you. Christian is the hot, wealthy, brooding type. He is the perfect guy for an insatiable, middle-class-with-college-debts, curious young woman. So then, we can break the plot down to a simple equation: typical romance novel, but with more toys.

Anastasia Steele frequently calls Grey “Fifty Shades,” referring to his moral ambiguity from what I can assess. She desires to “join him briefly in the darkness and bring him into the light” (pg. 504). Essentially, she wants to fix him. What a concept: a woman wanting to fix the problems with their male counterpart. Assuming simply from the titles of the three books (because I have only read the first) that Ana does “fix” Grey or “bring him into the light,” what did he need to be fixed of? Sure, Grey has his inner demons like everyone else, but James’ point here is very clear: the BDSM lifestyle is the ‘darkness’ Ana speaks of, and pulling Grey out of it would be tantamount to fixing a problem, curing an ill.

Despite the fantastic outbreak of opinion Fifty Shades has produced that it’s okay to be a little freaky in bed, the book doesn’t celebrate or even condone the BDSM lifestyle it advertises so fervently; it rejects it as morally wrong, a sickness rather than something to experience fully. What is wrong with Christian Grey? He is a Dominant and he enjoys spanking and bondage — well, there must be something wrong with him, then! The only way I can unravel phrases like “bring him into the light” is with this explanation, which seems quite frankly like false (or, at the very least, contradictory) advertising on James’ part.

Sexual Content & Audience

Well, the fact is that the book is mainly about sex. There are approximately 2-3 sex scenes in every chapter once Grey and Steele begin their relationship, and at least three times before they’ve settled any rules or professed any official titles. The sex is graphic and involves the use of bondage (such as cable ties and rope), discipline by the Dominant (such as spanking, the use of belts, floggers and riding crops) and various other toys (such as vaginal beads, fur gloves, etc.). They do have some vanilla sex, however, typically Grey insists on bringing some kind of naughty habit into the bedroom… or the boathouse... or the study. When they have sex, it is invariably an act of submission on Ana’s part, even if she is the one who initiates the intimacy, because that’s how Grey likes it.

The sex is written adequately for someone newly introduced to the erotica genre, but this book is exactly what it looks like. E.L. James even admits it, so it’s not such a shocker I should mention it. In her charmingly British way, James is quoted as saying, "This is my midlife crisis, writ large. All my fantasies in there, and that's it." Well, no surprise there. Now the fact that Grey is a smokin’ hot, wealthy-as-all-get-out man with a few problems to fix makes sense! James wrote Fifty Shades originally as Twilight fan fiction, which emphasizes a writer’s need to express themselves through others work in terms of their fantasies. James admits that everything in here is simply her fantasies “and that’s it.” That is the main point, then, of the series... not to advocate BDSM or write a romantic story about a more-or-less clandestine love affair. The book is simply used to express sexually-repressed fantasies everyone can relate to, which is why it’s understandable that married, middle-aged women are flipping through this book’s pages at such a fervent rate — but I don’t mean to offend anyone of that description.

I suspect the reason middle-aged women are secretly hiding behind this book is because of unmet fantasies they cannot bring themselves to propose to their husbands. Perhaps this is the one good quality about Fifty Shades. Through all the graphic sexual content, readers will come to realize that fantasies are a natural part of the human experience, and that sharing them with one’s partner (especially if one is completely committed to that person for the rest of one’s life) is the only way those fantasies can become reality. They don’t have to be as unfamiliar, strange, or physically strenuous as James’, but they are important to a happy sex life.
    • Erotica
    • Fiction

Personal comments

The two main reasons why I really did not enjoy this book were it's harsh stance on BDSM (described above) and the flimsy and confusing characterization. WARNING: This section contains spoilers. If you plan on reading the book and don't want the ending given away, please feel free to skip this section of the review.

Characterization

Anastasia Steele is the main character of the story. Picture a smart and able 22-year-old just graduated from college who is incredibly naive of anything related even remotely to sexuality. She is a virgin, has never been involved in a romantic relationship, and has never found herself interested in being in one. Enter Christian Grey—famous, wealthy-beyond-words, and hot as hell— and Ana’s sexuality is awoke like a grizzly bear after an extended hibernation. Throughout the novel, she battles within herself between what she calls her ‘inner goddess’ and her ‘subconscious,’ clearly a none-too-eloquent play on Freud’s famous id and ego. Her inner goddess wants her to give into what she deems the carnal pleasures involved in the BDSM relationship Grey wishes to have with her, while her subconscious is fearful of change and hesitant to accept something so far from what she knows as normal. The funny thing is, how does she know what a normal relationship entails when she’s never been in one? She should be a prime specimen for Grey to mold into the perfect submissive, but she refuses to submit so easily; she is strong-willed and yet, at the same time, easily persuaded because of intense desire and insatiable lust for Grey. Ana is, in essence, a contradiction.

Her battle is mostly between normality and the irregularity of their current relationship, between her inexperience and confusion and how Grey is set in his unique lifestyle (with contracts and mandatory non-disclosure agreements). She wants frantically to be with Grey, but on her terms. She wants him to have a normal relationship with her, with flowers and chocolates and rainbows and vanilla sex. Grey doesn’t know how to have a normal relationship, and the only way he can conceive of one is with BDSM, which allows him sexual gratification the only way he knows how to get it. With Ana, however, it’s a little different and you can see how he grapples with these new feelings. He can have vanilla sex and still get his release when it’s with Ana. By the middle of the book, you can tell that they’re both falling in love with each other. Both Ana and Grey don’t know how to comprehend the feelings because they both have never been in love with anyone before. They are both naive in the realm of love, because their relationship is based on lust.

The character development that most concerns me is the 180° Ana pulls in the last chapter of the book. I feel like this is a recession of her character rather than development. Throughout the book, she views Christian Grey as “fifty shades of fucked up,” as she puts it, because of his abnormal and unfamiliar lifestyle and his sexual preferences, but she attempted to grow out of that mindset in the remainder of the book. Perhaps there’s more to Grey than meets the eye, she thinks while fending off her subconscious. By the end of the book, however, she decides that he is not good enough for her, cannot be what she wants, that they are no good for each other—a curious revelation in the wake of her being spanked six times with a belt. She battles with the concept that Grey gets pleasure out of harming her, and being physically beaten finally makes her spit out what she’s really thinking: she cannot be his submissive simply because she doesn’t enjoy it. Sure, the sex is wonderful, and the more tame toys like fur gloves and leather are nice, but she just can’t see herself in a full-on BDSM relationship. She goes from wanting to try because of her love for Grey to her complete annihilation of the idea, which not only breaks her heart but leaves Grey “utterly, utterly broken, a man in agonizing pain” (pg. 513). Her naivety led to the relationship’s downfall; trying to take on the full sexual lifestyle in one swift blow (or six, rather) didn’t allow Grey to ease her into it, ultimately leaving her in pain and unwilling to even try any more.

Grey’s development from beginning to end is noticeable to even the most untrained eye. At first, he is a control-freak, unwilling to bend or break for anyone. But when he meets Ana, he bends for her at almost every turn. This alone should be a tell-tale sign that he is changing. When Ana asks him to change his Contract, he does. When he learns she’s a virgin, he has vanilla sex with her (which he has never had before) and allows her to sleep in his bed (which is a personal rule he breaks as a Dominant). Seeing these changes, Ana plucks up the courage to ask for ‘more’ of a relationship than just the nitty-gritty Contract rules. The fact that Grey accepts is yet another sign, and quickly we see he is in love with her, as does everyone around them — although they remain oblivious, of course. Overall, Grey’s development, though he is still a Dom, is monumentally more satisfying than Ana’s. The main character’s rejection of him at the end of the book simply doesn’t make sense, especially the concept she readily expresses that he is “not capable of love — of giving or receiving” (pg. 510). That is the most significant (and obvious) change we can see in Grey. Ana may be naive, but there is no excuse for her complete obliviousness.
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This review was edited by
  • Kissy Kissy
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Comments
  • Beneath The Bed
    Beneath The Bed  
    Thanks for the great review!
  • Trysexual
    Trysexual  
    interesting review
  • KrissyNovacaine
    KrissyNovacaine  
    Thanks for the review!
  • 123joy
    123joy  
    awesome review
  • Rory
    Rory  
    Nice review! Thanks! Now I'm sorry I bought it!!!
  • NastyNed
    NastyNed  
    Thanks!
  • EdenUser
    EdenUser  
    Thanks for the great review!
  • animepanda89
    animepanda89  
    thanks
  • smasmasma
    smasmasma  
    thanks for the great review!
  • Huff
    Huff  
    Great review, thanks
  • SaraW0512
    SaraW0512  
    Fantastic review! Thanks
  • thebest
    thebest  
    thx
  • Bleu
    Bleu  
    Sounds all about right! I'll skip reading the book! Thank you for the review.
  • Terri69
    Terri69  
    Great review! Thanks!
  • Cowgirl-Cutie
    Cowgirl-Cutie  
    I remember this before it was 50 Shades...back when it was fan fic and using Twilight characters. lol I couldn't get very far in this book. Thanks for the review!
  • smirthy
    smirthy  
    wow great review!!!
  • Violette Lacuna
    Violette Lacuna  
    thanks for the great review!
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