Fifty Shades of Grey – Book Review


Fifty Shades of Grey

  • Author E L James
  • Publisher Vintage Books
  • First published in 2012 (Published as an eBook and print on demand in 2011)

Some interesting facts about Fifty Shades of Grey:

  • Sold over 125 million copies worldwide
  • Translated into 52 languages
  • Women over thirty account for 70% of the book’s readership
  • Hardware stores reported an abnormally high demand for duct tape, cable ties, rope and other objects during the spike in book sales
  • According to an online poll 44% of women prefer reading Fifty Shades of Grey to having actual sex
  • The book was banned from Brevard County Library, Florida and subject to strict restrictions in Macae, Brazil.

Why am I reviewing this book on a tech site such as DCT I hear you ask? Well, there’s no denying it, Fifty Shades became a worldwide phenomenon in 2012, an event which largely passed me by, being a follower of Tom Clancy, Frederick Forsyth, Tolkien and a wide range of other authors in between. However, I’ve read hardly any erotica, with Lady Chatterley’s Lover being possibly the closest, if indeed either of these books can be slotted into that category. No, what happened was that I went to the Buenos Aires book fair, spotted Fifty Shades in one of the English booths and thought, ‘I need to see what all the fuss is about‘, so I bought it.

First impressions

I’d heard numerous opinions about the book, read the odd review and even been chastised for buying it by my stepson who, although not having read it himself, had an already tainted view from what he’d read about it online, so I decided to keep an open mind. Of course, I already knew the author to be a woman and since it’s written in the first person, that becomes abundantly clear in the first couple of pages, after which I knew I’d have to keep an even more open mind. The style in which it is written, which I can only describe as a girly-style for want of a better description, pretty much confirmed what I’d heard about it being a book for women, which I found difficult to connect with, but decided to march on regardless.

The plot

Twenty-one year old college student, Anastasia Steele, through an act of fate itself, meets twenty-seven year old billionaire Christian Grey whom she quickly discovers has unusual tastes in sex which he describes as ‘very singular’. Naturally for Ana, this is completely unknown territory, especially being a virgin (she’s never even held hands, we are led to believe), which for Christian is delightful since he effectively has new and untainted material to work with. Ana quickly becomes enchanted with Christian, not only for his good looks, physique and blazing, hot eyes, but also for the undivided attention he gives her and the dangerous appeal of his need to dominate her at all times, both emotionally and physically.What’s more, like a moth to a flame, she’s too weakened by infatuation with his perverse physical desires, which lead her to a darker side of intimacy that she’d probably never heard of, let alone considered becoming involved in up to that point in her young life. BDSM to you and me then.

Well that’s pretty much it as far as the plot is concerned, folks, and from the moment Ana meets the billionaire Christian on page five or six of the book, she falls into a kind of teenage love trance, drawn to Christian’s unusual sexual preferences as if she’s under hypnosis or has been hit over the head with a hammer. She either can’t stop herself or simply doesn’t want to and as the pages turn, out pops her so called inner goddess who can soon be found on nearly every page urging Ana to get dirty and often doing battle with her nameless sub-conscious nemesis. As a narrative device, these two conflicting characters usually work well; we all have them. The trouble here is that Ana’s inner goddess becomes a tiresome prop that, as a reader, you simply find irritating to the point of swearing at the book at times and wishing to strangle her.

The reading experience

Reading a good book is an experience in itself and usually far exceeds the rather passive experience of film as we can frame the story and characters as we wish. So, after I discovered that her inner goddess could turn somersaults, shout holy crap!, breathlessly murmur Oh my! and dance the Fandango without my bidding, I realized I was reading a woman’s book and should have put it to one side immediately, because the over-use of this kind of repetition quickly becomes tiresome, cringe-worthy and repetitive. But I didn’t, and forged on regardless in spite of my inner demon smacking me viciously about the head and asking me to stop the torture, and believe me, there is a little torture in this book, but not nearly enough to make it interesting.

‘Laters, baby’:
The most trite, annoying, hackneyed catch phrase of the last two decades, brought to you by a fictional billionaire stalker and his abused girlfriend.

But no, I was curious. She’d already signed a nondisclosure agreement on her first date with the impossibly beautiful, sex-on-two-legs Christian Grey and I needed to struggle on in order to discover whether she would actually sign the damned cruelty contract giving him first dibs over her body, mind and soul, but that never happened and the book continued on its mechanical march to well, nowhere really. The NDA put me in an irritable mood straight away, especially since the author herself  describes this rather optimistically as a romantic novel, where it is in fact a hybrid of porn, erotica and fan fiction, so imagine my surprise when Christian opens a foil pack of condoms at the moment of truth during the numerous scenes of energetic sex which, had I been the slightest bit aroused by the book, which I most definitely wasn’t, would have been the ultimate turn off.

As an experience in reading, Fifty Shades soon became a page turner because I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to get to the end of the book, it really is that badly written and, as a writer, I’m glad I read it if only to remind myself not to make the same mistakes as E L James has done in her prose, that of constant repetition and cliché. The kinky sex scenes, when they finally arrived, were nowhere near as outrageous as the media would have you believe and whilst they were descriptive up to a point, I felt that the author was holding back. They could have been so much more sensual, erotic and let’s face it, dangerous rather than the mechanical ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am!’, we ended up with. Some of the anatomical descriptions used, such as her private parts being referred to as her sex and his referred to as his behind, made me wonder if I’d picked up the expurgated version for an easily-offended market.

A record-breaking success story

The figures mentioned at the beginning of this review speak for themselves and I personally wish Miss James the very best, however… at the dinner table the other night we were talking about this phenomenon and I asked my other half how she would feel knowing that her book had been so pilloried by the critics and readers alike, even though her bank balance would shame a small island nation. Her reply of, “With that much money in the bank, who cares?”, didn’t really take me by surprise because, hey, we all want a few dollars in the bank, don’t we? On the other hand, it speaks volumes about the viral effect the book had when it was first published as an eBook and later as print-on-demand. The internet effect, word of mouth, discreet eBook reading (without the need for a brown paper bag) and the, let’s face it, slightly taboo subject of sub/dom sex going mainstream, opened up a world of chatter that may not have been possible in earlier times.

The film, of course, was inevitable and as I was speed-reading the book, skipping the interminable pages of gooey, toe curling eMail between the Dominant and the Submissive just to reach the end, I was busy hunting down the celluloid version that I could share with my other half over a pepperoni pizza, which duly arrived on Saturday as Ana waved goodbye to Christian. I like it when a film sticks to the book, even beats it, and in this respect it deserves top marks. Ana and Christian finally came alive, the photography was spot on, the kinky sex was well, kinky, the shots of Seattle sublime, and I was left with an even greater desire to bang their heads together and call their mothers than I was before. Half-way through the film, my other half prodded me and whispered, “God, this is boring.” Clearly, her inner goddess had gone on vacation for the evening.

Reading Fifty Shades was a bit like a trip to the dentist; it’s painful but you know it will end eventually. Believe me, it’s toe curling stuff and the effect of reading it was akin to an anti-orgasm, if such a thing exists. Perhaps in volumes two and three, Christian will drag the rest of Ana’s family into The Red Room of Pain and we can really get going, but for the moment, I’m not holding my breath.

1 thought on “Fifty Shades of Grey – Book Review”

  1. The writing was rather childish, the cover promised more than the book delivered, but I read it all anyway to see how much the author would/ could get away with.
    I guess the book was female friendly if 44% of the woman readers would prefer the book to the real thing. But not to this male. Nothing is better than the real thing if everything goes well.

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