The Universe works in mysterious ways. Did we plan that our first book review would be Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James? No. Did we want it to be? Hard to say, it just sort of turned into a I will if you will situation. Our interest was piqued not only by its exploding popularity but also because it is a best selling erotica book, about BDSM no less. Not often do people discuss indulging in erotica books, especially ones that promise kink, so this must be good, right? What the hell, we thought, let’s see what this raving is all about.
Spoiler: neither of us finished it. We gave it a good trial, reading 100+ pages each. But there was something so painful about reading something so awful (yet hilarious) that we could no longer spend any more brain cells and our precious time on it.
This is Mad & Nat’s first book review, and probably one of the few ones that will be joined.
Oh, where to start.
I usually tend to avoid book trends but this time around I was morbidly curious. Fifty Shades of Grey is everywhere. A local Indigo has a wall-sized display set up with all the 3 books, proclaiming that this is the year’s hottest work of fiction. Oh general public, how I disagree with your tastes. I managed to read to Chapter 12. It was a rollercoaster experience: I laughed at all the wrong moments and I cried at the atrocious writing. On multiple occasions I had to resist the urge to throw my Kindle across the room and stomp on it for good measure.
I never knew that poor sentence structure, fragmented narrative and a cheesy plot can make me so angry. And that’s saying something sine I did get through the first book of Twilight and a few chapters into Eclipse a few years ago (My mistake, I should have learned from that awful experience).
I didn’t expect a lot of literary genius from a book that began its life as a Twilight erotic fanfiction. I have to give credit to James for one thing though, she pulls off writing like Meyer exceptionally well. It is a powerhouse of metaphors that don’t make any sense, overused dialogue tags that tell rather than show, and a character that seems to read minds of those around her even though she is completely unperceptive about her own self. Forgetting how to breathe is a problem that both Ana Steele and Bella Swan seem to share. But that is what Fifty Shades of Stupid (as I nicknamed it) essentially does – it rides on Twilight’s popularity. Meyer’ Mormon sensibilities (and the fact that it was a YA book) would never let her write hot sex scenes, and so James fulfilled the need of millions of Twilight fans who wanted desperately to read – in detail – about Edward and Bella banging. Really, it’s quite devious and almost evil on the part of Vintage who are now laughing all the way to the bank.
Fifty Shades of Stupid opens with our first introduction to Anastasia Rose Steele (seriously) as she gazes at herself in the mirror. Through an exceptionally over-used method of character description, we gather that she thinks herself hideous and completely unworthy of any attention. That’s compared to her bossy, girly roommate Kate Kavanagh, who is blonde, green-eyed and ohmygod so much hotter. Despite being gorgeous, Kate doesn’t seem to be the brightest knife in the box, because instead of recruiting a fellow student journalist to do an interview that she has planned for 9 months with the infamous Christian Grey, she decides to send the unpreped Ana, who doesn’t even know the man’s age. Already, we can see that these characters not only lack professionalism, but also common logic. This doesn’t look promising.
Ana borrows Kate’s Mercedes and, as James puts it, she “puts the pedal to the metal” and drives to Seattle. From the description of Grey’s office, we gather that he is extremely fond of stainless steel, sandstone, and sexy blondes that make Ana feel like a pile of vomit in comparison. She then gives them a reason to sneer at her as she literally falls into Grey’s office, landing on her face. Oh Bella, you clumsy child you. Oh wait, wrong awkward heroine.
Essentially, Ana is a 21 year old university student who comes off as a sheltered 13 year old. She would have made a Puritan family proud. I suppose she lived under a rock during her time at school because she doesn’t even own an email address. She hardly drinks, she never dated, never had feelings for a boy, never masturbated, obviously never had sex, probably doesn’t even know what sex entails and where her vagina is located, as she keeps on referring to it as down there. And yet, the morning after getting her virginity pounded out of her, she turns out to be an expert at giving head. It seems to come (hur hur) naturally. Maybe she lost her gag reflex in a childhood accident.
I imagined Ana brumbling about, Bambi-eyed and surprised and amazed at absolutely everything, looking constantly like this:
Her favourite expression is “Holy Crap” and “Oh my…” (more on this later) and she also seems to have a disjointed personality because she keeps on referring to her subconscious and inner goddess who have a mind apart from hers. I liked to think them as little head midgets that lived in her brain. Please, somebody let James know that you cannot hear your subconscious, if we could, it would not be the subconscious.
Christian Grey is the older man of 27 (because people over 30 are gross). He’s so gorgeous he’d make Edward Cullen jealous. So successful that he can probably buy Donald Trump. How did he make it so far so quickly? Who cares! He’s hot. Also, he is dangerous. In true Cullen fashion, he repeatedly tells Ana to stay away from him, and then traces her phone number to find out where she is. He gallops in, a ginger-haired knight in Converse shoes and saves Ana from being molested by her close friend while she is drunk. And then helps her to throw up in the bushes. Oh, if only a man could do that for me.
He whisks her away on his helicopter to Seattle to show her his “play room” of bondage equipment. Paddles and floggers and whips, oh my! It’s all state of the art and rather boring. Ana, is of course, shocked, and inwardly wonders what sort of twisted individual would enjoy such games. After all, there must be something wrong with a person who takes pleasure in something that is not considered to be “normal”. And it seems that there is. We later find out that Grey was abused as a child and made into a sex-slave at 15 by an older woman. This is James’s way of explaining why Grey enjoys being the master in a S&M relationship – because the only love he had ever known was a sexual one in which he lacked control. Also, we briefly get a glimpse into James’s own fantasy of enslaving a young boy.
This is fifty shades of fucked up. This character was obviously written by someone who is ignorant of sexuality and/or of the lifestyle of which she writes. Granted, I am no expert either, but for a moment let’s forget that this book is just kinky smut for the everyday soccer mom. Upon learning what Grey indulges in, Ana innocently asks “Have you been like this for a while?” as if his sexual interests are a disease or a disorder. I don’t think this a positive illustration of the lifestyle. There is already a lot of misconception and taboo surrounding S&M so why not set out to write a book looking at the positive, healthy aspects of it rather than damning it like so many others do? Especially if your characters are going to be participating in it themselves.
That being said, I wish Christian Grey would branch out in his sexual exploits. Who knows, maybe he’d enjoy blood play.
James also had the brilliant idea of writing in a contract that Ana must sign explaining what is expected of her as a sub. It outlines the rules, the limits, the conditions and so forth. Boring, unsexy and cold. I couldn’t help but see the contract as James’s lack of writing skill. While much of the “training” and Ana’s introduction to the lifestyle and the rules could have been done through action and dialogue, James’s quickly got all that out of the way by providing the reader with a document that is several pages long. How cold and impersonal. Where’s the exploration? Where’s the curiosity and abandon? Grey even asked Ana to note down her pain tolerance. BDSM is about pushing your boundaries, not clearly defining them.
This was a constant problem with the parts that I did read: lazy narrative. Several times she uses phrases like “for some reason” while describing something and thinks that the only existing body language is lip biting, mouth pursing, and eye squinting. The repetition of phrases got so distracting that it became annoying. At about page 83, I began to count some of her most used phrases and words for the hell of it. Keep in mind, this is a sample gathered from about 100 pages, while the book itself is over 500 pages long.
Holy Crap!/Shit!/Fuck! or variation of any: 38 times
Oh My… : 16 times
Hmm…: 5 times
Murmur(ed): 31 times
Mention of Grey’s eyes : 10 times
Talk of her subconscious/inner goddess: 23 times
I think I even missed a few Hmms and descriptions of Grey’s burning/inquisitive/melting stare but I still managed to make a pie chart.
Please, dear amateur writers, don’t take pointers from Stephanie Meyer. Your characters cannot murmur everything. If they do, all you’ll end up with are just a bunch of mumblers.
James created a small array of one dimensional characters who excel at overreacting and never actually staying in character. Often, Grey mentions everything that he is but never actually displays it (claims to never slept in the same bed with a woman, but does it over and over with Ana). Ana herself is dull, daft and so painfully naïve that one cannot help but wonder how she made it to 21, let alone out of her apartment. But then again, you cannot publish a book about 17 year olds having hardcore sex without starting a shitstorm.
This is perhaps a more serious review than Fifty Shades of Grey deserves. After all it’s a frilly book that’s supposed to get some panties wet and indulge in a tame sexual fantasy. And perhaps it is unjust that I did not finish the whole thing, but after finding so many problems with the storytelling, characters and logic, I couldn’t waste any more time on book that I was obviously not going to enjoy. And, telling by what others have written about it, this review doesn’t even go into the controlling and abusive boyfriend that Christian becomes (all apart from their S&M games).
If you want to read erotica, you might as well go online and find some stories on Literotica.com, which hosts thousands of short stories that are much better written, imagined and put together than Fifty Shades of Murmur. And which are much, much kinkier