04 July 2012

50 Shades of Grey

It's true. I succumbed to the hype and controversy around the 50 Shades trilogy and bought them for my Kindle. The same thing happened when the fourth Twilight book came out and I wondered why people were lining up at Borders for a midnight release. While I'm quite aware that popularity has nothing to do with quality, I'm intrigued when a bunch of my friends and family are talking about a book/movie/band/whatever. My curiosity backfired with Twilight as I did not enjoy the series as a whole (Eclipse wasn't so bad).

The irony of my Twilight experience is that 50 Shades was originally Twilight fan fiction; a trivia tidbit I wasn't aware of until AFTER I purchased the book. In fact, E.L. James actually admits these scenes started out as her mid-life crisis fantasies. Obviously things-- like the characters' names-- have been changed and adjusted to turn this Edward and Bella "what if" tale into its own highly marketable trilogy. Though perhaps the true appeal of books like Grey and Twilight is that they help other women deal with their own mid-life crises. At least they're cheaper than a sports car.

Anyway, this is a review for the first book and I'm already off topic.

***WARNING: the following contains the use of sexually explicit words. Read at your own risk***

Book One introduces readers to the awkward and bookish Anastasia Steele who is about to graduate college with (surprise surprise) a degree in English. If you've never read the books and are assuming Ana is clumsy, isn't really popular but has a beautiful and popular best friend, prefers books to parties, has unruly hair, and is beautiful but doesn't know it because of her self-esteem issues... you would be correct. YAWN. This female-type is cliche and boring. There's this need for women writers with their own self-esteem issues to prove that nerdy girls can get the hot, rich, successful, and brooding Prince Charming (and pretty girls can suck it).

Guess that's why these books are fiction.

It's obvious James is writing herself into this character, especially with Ana's inner dialog. She says "Holy Crap/ Fuck/ Shit" a lot. To the point where I want to slap her and say, "you're an English major, dammit! Use your words!" Although Ana is one-dimensional, she's still far more proactive and intelligent than Bella Swan (like that's much of stretch). When she's not busy mentally contradicting Christian's praise of her beauty ("how can a Greek god want me?"... blah blah blah), Ana has a sharp wit that only comes out in her email flirtations with Christian Grey. Actually, I could read an entire book of their emails, that's how much I love them. And be sure to read the subject line and Christian's email signature-- they change with the conversation.

Christian Grey, on the other hand, is interesting and has me wanting... to know more about his back story. Though at times he comes off as a little too capable of saying the right words at the right time in the most unrealistically romantic way. And while there's an amusing ongoing joke about his stalker tendencies, Christian's jealousy and possessiveness would be restraining order worthy in the real world. Like I said: FICTION.  In terms of other Twilight character tie-ins, yes, there is a "Jake," a free-spirited mom and serious but loving (step)dad, a "perfect" family, an "Alice," and in Book Two a James and Victoria, though they're not together.

On to story. With a romance paralleling Bella and Edward, it's predictable, cheesy at times, and rather boring. I was going to title this blog "50 Shades of Mediocre" as the subplots go nowhere and the main story line is simply about a virgin girl whose first boyfriend happens to be rich and into kinky sex. Rather than a cliffhanger, 50 Shades of Grey ended so abruptly it seemed like someone literally interrupted the story. As if the trilogy was one long book that someone ripped into thirds. It didn't hold my attention either-- I began reading the first book 2 weeks ago and stopped for the last week and a half because I lost interest.

Also, E.L. James pays homage to another sexually charged romance:  The Thomas Crown Affair remake starring Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo. First, Anastasia finds her favorite brand of tea (yes she drinks tea... what a surprise!) at Christian's and mentions being a "foregone conclusion." It's subtle but I've seen TCA so many times that I knew exactly where that line came from. Then there's the glider scene-- it's almost an EXACT rip off of the glider scene in TCA. If you haven't seen TCA you will have no idea what I'm talking about, but I highly recommend skipping these books and going for that film.

And that brings me to the sex (which is all you really wanted to know about, be honest).  While there are quite a few explicit sex scenes, calling them pornographic is dramatic. It sounds as if there's sex on every page when in actuality there is a rather simple story with generic characters who use repeated dialog. Perhaps it's more soft core literary porn.

James also attempts to class-up the sex scenes by not using crude vocabulary like "cock" and "tits," as well as avoiding the technical genital terms of "penis" and "vagina." Instead, she refers to them as Ana's "sex" or "gender" and Christian's "length." Yet she does use the word "clitoris." Guess there isn't a pretty nickname for that one.  The humor behind the sexual relationship-- making Ana sign an NDA and writing out an explicit "Indecent Proposal" contract-- is highly amusing. Plus I enjoyed reading Ana's inner struggle with finding pleasure in (limited) pain and wondering if it's wrong. That's where her character dimension comes out.

Being written by a woman, Christian knows what he's doing in the bedroom to please a female, so I see where many women find that sexy. Honestly, men could use them as a reference on how to please their women so they don't have to turn to the likes of Christian Grey and Edward Cullen.

If what I've told you sounds appealing or at least something you can deal with, the first book is worth a read.  Borrow it if you can.  No, 50 Shades of Grey isn't great literature and E.L. James is certainly not the next J.K. Rowling or this century's Jane Austen, but these are sexy summer books to read on vacation or relaxing in your A/C filled home during the crazy heatwave. Sure, there's sex, but a little S&M never hurt anybody, right?


  1. i think i just don't want to read it because the story doesn't interest me. the characters sound even more frustrating than the ones in twilight, and your in depth analysis reviewed that even more. and the sex part is probably no worse than the romance novels they sell all over in grocery stores, im sure.

  2. For me, these characters are far less frustrating than Twilight-- Ana actually DOES things... it's crazy! But her whiny "I can't believe he thinks I'm pretty" thoughts grate on your nerves after awhile.

    The other thing a friend brought up is the repetition in the writing. Christian is constantly putting his lips in a thin line and Ana is ALWAYS blushing. OMG the blushing drives me bananas! Still worth reading for an lesson in S&M 101.