Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James

Ahh, where to start?

I had to know what all the hype was about.  Categorized as erotica, I admit my curiosity was piqued.  And I was curious, too: what exactly is the difference between erotica and porn?

I will say flat out that I’m not a fan of porn – my own definition/perception being visual images of extremely graphic sex merely for the sake of sex, in which women are generally portrayed as (a) physically unrealistic, and (b) receptacles and/or existing for the sole purpose of providing sexual pleasure for men.

Erotica, on the other hand, it seems to me, would be steamy and sexy, and even graphic, but hopefully with some kind of semi-believable storyline that invites the observer to care about the characters, and in which the characters are fully developed adults capable of participating in the story voluntarily.

In Fifty Shades of Grey, we meet Anastasia Steele, a young, virginal woman on the brink of graduating from college.  At 21, she’s never even masturbated (yeah, right).  Filling in for her friend who has fallen ill, she agrees to interview one Christian Grey, 27-year old mega-billionaire (self-made . . . yeah, right) for the student newspaper, and from the moment she stumbles into his office, falling flat on her face (literally), the sparks begin to fly between them.  Christian woos Anastasia (if you can call stalking her “wooing”), and it’s not long before he has her in bed, first introducing her to “vanilla sex” to get her virginity out of the way, and then introducing her to his fetishist lifestyle, that of BDSM.

The rest of the book revolves around Christian trying to get Anastasia to sign a contract he has drawn up outlining the parameters of the Dominant/Submissive relationship he wishes to enter into (ahem) with her, which includes her agreeing to be ordered around by him, to eat what he says to eat, wear what he says to wear, to not make eye contact with him, to eagerly and immediately do his sexual bidding, and to allow the use of such implements as whips, riding crops, genital clamps, hot wax, and butt plugs.  (He’s managed to convince 15 or so other women to enter into this agreement before Anastasia, by the way.)  Ana is conflicted, but she’s falling in love with this sick fuck (of course).  Along the way, there are many, many graphic sex scenes.  As in, after Chapter 8 in which their sexual relationship explodes onto the pages (ahem), there might be two or three pages of non-sex between the sex scenes for the rest of the 500+ page book.

I would hate for anyone to think of me as a prude.  I’m cool with a little rough-housing and role-playing in the bedroom (or wherever) between consenting adults.  I take no issues with venturing beyond “vanilla sex.”  But I did not like this book.

Let’s start with the writing.  It’s just not well-written.  There are obvious grammatical errors throughout, and it just has a very amateurish feel to it.  I never even began to give a flying crap about either of the main characters.  Christian is a twisted, arrogant son of a bitch (with a dark, sad past which is only hinted at and which, I surmise, is supposed to make the reader feel sympathetic towards him, but it didn’t work for me), and Anastasia is just a jackass.  There are too many unrealistic things in the story that make it unbelievable: his ultra-rich status at such a young age; and if he’s so rich and successful – a virtual mogul – what the hell is he doing living in Seattle of all places?  And of course all the men in the story are in love with the oblivious Anastasia; and of course Christian has an “impressive” penis, because no average-sized dick would do for a story like this; and he’s multi-orgasmic!  He can not only get it up over and over again, but he can come and come again, within minutes of his last “release”; and then there’s Anastasia’s mother who is a wellspring of relationship wisdom though she’s on her fourth marriage; and the list goes on.

Bah.

A short list of repeated phrases that made me want to reach into the book and slap the shit out of someone:

“Oh my”

“Holy shit”

“Holy cow”

“Holy fuck”

“That’s so … hot”

“My inner goddess”

Laters, baby

Shut the fuck up, you annoying figments of the author’s imagination.

Also, it drove me CRAZY that the author is so clearly British, and yet she wrote through the eyes of a young American woman.  It failed.  It felt like she just read about what Americans might be like, but everyone in the book came off as a transplanted Brit.  Why didn’t she just have the whole thing take place in her native England?

What bothers me most of all about this book – and here’s where I get on my moral soapbox – is the notion that submissiveness is what turns women on.  We’ve spent how many decades fighting to get out from under men’s thumbs, to be seen and valued as equal human beings, but according to this story and the almost unbelievably positive and welcoming reaction to it, what women really want is to be degraded, demeaned, humiliated, and fucked silly by a domineering male.

Come on, ladies – really?

I’ve been told by several friends that I have to read the second and third books in the trilogy to really understand and get to like the characters.  Frankly, I don’t want to have to try that hard to like characters or a story.  Although I found a couple (out of several dozen) of the sex scenes to be, shall we say, titillating, this book just didn’t work for me, and I won’t be reading the rest of the series.

That said, I am now on a quest to find some quality erotica.  It’s got to be out there, right?  Stay tuned.

Also, my book club will be gathering to discuss Fifty Shades of Grey in July.  Although I didn’t like the book, I expect the discussion to be a rollicking good time, and I’ll post a recap here, so stay tuned for that as well.

13 thoughts on “Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

  1. Gosh Lisa, I just love reading your reviews. They are so entertaining and informative. If what you have written here is accurate (and having read many of the same books as you and generally always agreed with your take, it must be) I am disgusted that this and the rest of the trilogy are on the NYT Bestseller List. If this portrayal of a hot and steamy relationship (sexationship?) is what sells, then what does that say about the type of sex/relationship most women really want. Perhaps many women want to move beyond vanilla into a sexually submissive relationship so that they can try out some crazy shit guilt-free…?

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  2. Thanks, Lisa, for confirming all my suspicions about this book and saving me from the mistake of reading it.

    I think, to your last points about the gender relationships in the book, it’s interesting to note that this trilogy was born of “fan fiction” of the Twilight series…another series that seriously sets women back 50 years with poor Bella, waiting for some man to come save her. Blech.

    I can’t be bothered with either series.

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  3. I had no interest in the Twilight series so I wasn’t sure what I’d think of this one. Thank goodness I decided to wait til you reviewed it – and as another commenter said I won’t be wasting my money or my time buying it or reading it!
    Having said that – I don’t mind reading a bit of erotica either so I look forward to hearing if you do find some quality books – just make sure you share about them 🙂

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  4. You should try the Blackdagger Brotherhood Series and read them in order. I wasn’t convinced until I read my first one and then I had to race to get the others because I was so addicted. Have fun!

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  5. well, I am on the third and they don’t get much better. My book club is reading them for “summer fluff”. They are an easy read, and I just want to know the ending at this point. But, I agree on the ridiculousness of the characters. I am tired of the sex, I just skip most of it and read the rest (there is at least “bad guy” in the last two stories).
    I have heard a lot of good things about the Blackdagger series, my husband and a few women in bookclub read them all.

    Now, I will go read some more of your book reviews!

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  6. I have just found your blog and your review blog. Wish I could remember how I found it…nevertheless glad I did. Any time anyone asked me what I thought of Fifty Shades of Grey the only word I could come up was STUPID, not a very intelligent response but man oh man it was the stupidiest book I’ve ever read. I didn’t even get to the “good” part nor will I. Everyone tells me the second and third are better. They’d have to be because the first one was just awful.

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  7. […] Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James.  This runaway bestseller that everyone has talked about is horrible.  Badly written, awful, completely unrealistic story line, detestable, unbelievable characters, and a complete insult to every woman with an ounce of self-respect, this is the story of a virgin who falls in love with a man with more baggage than a luggage store who likes to tie her up and do fucked up things to her.  I hated this book, and it still makes me mad – mad at the misogyny, and the fact that anyone could write such pure crap, get it published and make millions of dollars off of it.  Garbage.  There is much better smut out there, trust me. […]

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  8. LOVE your review. It’s spot on. I read it awhile ago, and forgot about the “yeah, right’s” you mentioned, but I remember telling my GF about those, and saying the same thing. Gimme a break. I’ll be there slapping those characters with you, and yes to the whole submissiveness thing and that it’s attractive to be some rich guy’s Barbie. Do this. Do that. Wear this. Ugh.

    However, I found myself saying, yes, yes, yes to most everything you wrote! 🙂

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  9. omg. Exactly. I only made it until about Chapter 8. I actually defriended people on Facebook that could not stop talking about how fantastic this book was. A hot 22 year old virgin? Ha. Just the stupidest waste of time, ever. If they use an actor that I like in the godforsaken movie that they are supposedly making of this tripe SO HELP ME…

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  10. Lisa,
    I know this is coming a little late and I know it is a long read! I stumbled across your 50 Shades review today while I was looking into another S/M novel somewhat similar to 50 Shades of Grey, “Nine and a Half Weeks” by Elizabeth McNeil. I just want to say I agree with you on the dislike of the book. The writing, story and plot were all terrible. I read through all the books because I too heard they got better. They don’t. They get worse. In book two you discover that Christian has this borderline Elektra complex that has made him the way he is and then in the third you have so much sex it gets irritating. On top of all those things their relationship dynamic was extremely irritating, particularly when he would brush all Ana’s concerns under the rug and shut her up with sex.
    My main point in writing to you however is not to discuss our shared dislike of the novel, I am writing because of a few comments you made about D/s (Dominant/submissive) relationships.
    “the notion that submissiveness is what turns women on. We’ve spent how many decades fighting to get out from under men’s thumbs, to be seen and valued as equal human beings, but according to this story and the almost unbelievably positive and welcoming reaction to it, what women really want is to be degraded, demeaned, humiliated, and fucked silly by a domineering male.”
    After reading this I am going to assume you don’t know very much about D/s relationships and what they entail. I cannot blame you for this as now that so many women have read 50 Shades of Grey they all think they have an idea of what being in a D/s relationship is. I would like to give you some insight because submitting yourself in this way is not about being degraded, demeaned, and humiliated or being fucked silly by a domineering male. The submissive does not get ‘turned’ on necessarily by the submission; he or she simply takes pleasure in serving the person that they love, similar to the same way you may take pleasure in caring for your husband, though these people may take it to a different level in according to some.
    In real life people who enter into D/s relationships will get to know each other well before embarking into that aspect of the relationship. You would never give that much of yourself to someone you hardly know. Yes there can be contracts drawn up, safe words are always established and limits are addressed. Most “vanilla” women, especially a virgin like Ana would run away screaming from something like this, I think this is due to lack of understanding. Most D/s couples I know are married or have been together for several years.
    I think what most people should understand about submitting yourself to a man (or woman, there are Dominant women too) is that the entire relationship is based on fully trusting your Dominant and constant open communication from both the Dominant and submissive.
    For this type of relationship to work one must be comfortable alone and comfortable with themselves in all aspects of their life. Too many books illustrate terrible and unhealthy relationships. 50 Shades of Grey is no exception with its terrible example of how a D/s relationship works. The whole book is a great big “what not to do” in D/s relationships.
    Your submission is a gift to the Dominant and any good Dominant knows that and will strive to care for their submissive in any way shape or form. The Dominant will learn to understand you and your needs inside and out just as the submissive will learn the same for the Dominant she is serving. That takes time and the whole process is a learning experience for both parties. Also the gift given to the Dominant is the submission, the submissive’s reward comes in that he or she takes great pleasure in doing the Dominant’s bidding, in pleasing the Dominant.
    Your submission to the Dominant is not signing your life away and giving up all your freedom, it is a learning experience for you and your partner. It is a journey of testing limits, conquering fears and self-discovery.
    I have noticed in my experiences with “vanilla” and “non-vanilla” couples that the ones in D/s relationships seem twice as strong and twice as happy. I don’t know if that is because both sides are always getting what they want and they know what the other wants or if it is simply because the success of their relationship depends on crystal clear communication from both parties all the time, but there is something truly beautiful and unique when you see the way a Dominant looks at his submissive or the submissive looks at the Dominant.
    It may seem strange or creepy to you and many others out there and that is fine, to each their own. I just wanted to try and explain how these relationships occur in real life and give a small insight into that world.
    I may not have explained it as well as I know some others could have but I have never been great with words or explaining things, but I hope I have given you something to think about and if you have any questions or comments feel free to email me back. =)
    Also, if you are looking for some good erotica, you may want to check out http://www.ellorascave.com
    They have all kinds of interesting stuff for all kinds of interests. =)
    Thanks for your time! =)

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