Thoughts on ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’

With the help of Iron Man and powerfully caffeinated tea, I have survived Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James.

I deserve a medal.

My original plan was to wait on this book until some time had passed and I had a bit less distraction in the way of nice weather and school work. I was also going to wait and see if Fifty Shades was the most popular bad book in the poll I put up in this post. But once one vote came in for the erotic bestseller, I decided to check out Fifty Shades, just so I had an idea of what to expect.

I realized very quickly that unless I finished the book as soon as possible, I was going to put it down and never go near it again. So I plowed through it, craving something stronger than my tea- unfortunately vodka is difficult to procure when underage in America, and I had no money to make the purchase anyway. So I turned to Iron Man for a much more attractive and interesting CEO, and with that playing in the background, I was able to get through this drivel.

Where do I even begin with the problems of this book? I could talk about the wretched present tense narrative that forces us to see the non-existent events through the badly distorted and completely clueless eyes of the Bella Swan expy. I could talk about Christian Grey and his abusive antics that make me want to bring in the Hulk to use him as a punching bag. I could talk about how the secondary characters have more depth and likeable qualities than our two main leads. I could talk about the horribly un-sexy sex scenes, or the lackluster prose, or the complete lack of conflict. In fact, I do talk about them in a bit more depth in this video review; there were many things to complain about in this book, far too many to be addressed in a single blog post.

But I think the biggest problem overall with this book lies in the fact that it stems from the idea that an abusive partner can be changed through the power of love.

Why am I labeling this as the book’s biggest problem? For one thing, it’s one of the oldest clichés of romance fiction in existence. It’s also one of the most potentially dangerous. No one outside force can change someone who is fixed on doing something wrong. It’s possible for the wrongdoer to change, yes- but the change can only come from within that person. There might be outside influences or factors, but ultimately the ability to set oneself straight from doing something wrong is a choice that only that wrongdoer can make. No one else can make that decision.

This book runs on the idea that Ana can change Christian (and here I’m taking into account the entire series, not just the first book). Fifty Shades ends with Ana breaking off her and Christian’s relationship- which would have had me cheering had I not known that they are married by the third book in this series. I am not familiar with the details of their coming together and have no intention of suffering through the other two wastes of paper in this series, but from what I can glean from the details, it does appear that Ana’s influence caused Christian Grey to change (if I’m wrong, feel free to correct me, though you will need hard textual evidence to convince me).

Given what I have seen in the first book, there is absolutely no way the relationship between Ana and Christian can work. He wants her for sex, and she wants a relationship (or so she claims; given that the only thing she seems to notice about Grey  is his sex with her, I find this very hard to believe). He is willing to make concessions for her not because he wants a relationship with her, but because he wants to keep her around and she suits his sexual taste like none of his partners have before her. Ana and Christian are not incompatible because she prefers vanilla sex and he bondage- they are incompatible because they are looking for fundamentally different things from their interactions. Since Ana has less backbone than a salted slug, she can never quite bring herself to insist that Grey treat her better, and only once does she make any attempt at explaining her views on a relationship. It is a sign of how clueless she is that this attempt is made via email when she is across the country. More than that, there is almost no effort made by Ana to explain her views on relationships. Indeed, this girl has almost no views on anything other than how badly she wants Christian. She has no sexual experiences whatsoever, actually does not know the meaning of the term “vanilla sex,” and thinks Christian means an X-box when he is about to take her to his bondage chamber (hilariously referred to by Ana as “the Red Room of Pain”).

Given that this girl has no sexual experience, it makes me very skeptical of how Christian treats her in the novel. I will be the first to admit that I have no knowledge whatsoever of the BDSM lifestyle, but one thing I do know is that one of the iron-clad necessities for making a relationship of this kind work is a clear understanding of boundaries and limits between the partners. Ana has no such understanding and Grey does not make it particularly clear- a good ¾ of the story is Ana complaining about how enigmatic he is and how hard his views are to understand. For all Ana knows, he could be completely misleading her about the normal nature of relationships between a dominant and submissive. This never seems to occur to the girl, whose constant thoughts are how much sex with Christian means to her. The only conflict in this book is the conflict of desire between Christian and Ana, and I personally find the way he treats her less of a romantic conflict and more the conflict of an abusive relationship, both in emotional and physical aspects (I know bondage involves physical acts, but there are times where Grey ‘punishes’ Ana even though they have no agreement to be dom and sub).

The fact that this relationship conflict is treated as that of the twisted course of love rather than the actions of a sick and twisted understanding is by far the greatest problem of Fifty Shades of Grey. The poor writing, bland characters, and lack of plot are all secondary problems that are incidental to the fundamental flaw- this book has no consistent understanding of relationships and interactions, and cannot make up its mind as to what it is trying to depict. The result is a mess that tops Twilight in terms of twisted ideals, and makes me despair for humanity as the book sits smugly on the top of the New York Times best-selling list.

The bright side? E L James follows in Stephenie Meyer’s missteps of referencing classical works as parallels to their masterpieces. In the case of Fifty Shades of Grey, the classic in question was Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. I feel confident that E L James has emulated Meyer and misunderstood the entire point of this work, so I now have a reason to pick this book up and see how badly it’s been distorted. I look forward to writing that review.

Some other relevant links:

A Master of the Universe/Fifty Shades of Grey Comparison

A look at the BDSM community and whether what’s in Fifty Shades is accurate.

Dear Author’s fantastic breakdown of the whole mess.

ETA: Jennifer Armintrout’s wonderfully snarky shredding of the sorry mess.

26 thoughts on “Thoughts on ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’

  1. Thanks for an excellent review. I haven’t read this, but I work in a bookstore and it’s flying off the shelves. Having read the first dseveral paragraphs (and that’s all), I confess I am perplexed. 🙂

    • You’re welcome and thank you! In B & N they have a whole table with the books set up right by the door. And I know what you mean about perplexities- as you probably guessed from my review, I really do not understand what all the fuss over it is, or why so many people like it as much as they do. It’s just disturbing and it’s badly written…

  2. HAHA HA HA!!! *I’m sending you a medal in my mind*
    First off, you didn’t sound at all like I thought you would haha, I get what you meant when you said to Michael that some people think your British, you sound like a cross between America and British. 🙂
    I LOVE how through the video your voice got more and more irritated! Haha I honestly have no idea how you managed to get through this book so quickly! From my knowledge of the book without reading it, you seem to hit the nail right on the head. I thought the relationship was unhealthy in Twilight…..but this makes that look good in comparision! Ughh.
    Number one on the New York Times Bestseller List!?!?!? What is happening to the world!
    Ohh I so want to read this book so that I can diss it, I really do. But I don’t want to add fuel to the fire ya know? Plus, book ban. Darn it!
    Also the comparison between the two texts, the published and the fanfic is unbelievable. She’s literally only changed a couple of words! Is the whole book like that? I was trying to give E L James the benefit of the doubt by saying maybe her writing was better in the published version. But it doesn’t sound like it.

    Ohh dear, ohh dear, oh dear.

    Loved this post! Excellent as always. 🙂

    • *takes medal with a bow*
      Ahaha, really? I guess it’s a byproduct of watching so many British shows. I have no idea why my accent is the way it 🙂
      It was so hard for me to stay impartial the longer I talked about it. I just wanted to wash my hands of the whole thing and never think about it again, and the more I talked about it, the more I realized I hated this book with a raging fiery passion. And yeah- Twilight is almost better in my book because Meyer is completely sincere in her total ignorance of what a healthy relationship is. E L James has indicated she knows that what goes on her book isn’t acceptable. Now I guess that’s good in that she recognizes she’s out of touch with reality, but then why is she writing about it??
      In re the New York Times: I KNOW!! Oh, humanity.
      It’s up to you, but I really don’t know how much it’d be worth it. There were times where I was sitting and laughing hysterically and others where I was literally shouting at the page. I seriously don’t think I could have gotten through it if I hadn’t been streaming the Iron Man movie. But wait- what book ban? I am intrigued! (especially since banning this would actually make sense… ugh, such bad writing and subject matter…)
      I know! I can’t compare the whole thing, but Dear Author did a comparison (linked up above), and apparently 89% of Fifty Shades is the same as Master of the Universe. Doesn’t sound like a good testimony.

      • Haha, I’m talking about my personal book ban that I mentioned on my latest post saying that I can’t buy any more books until I’ve read 60 books off my TBR pile. So even if I wanted to try Shades of Grey I couldn’t because I’ve banned myself from buying any new books!
        But in terms of Shades of Grey, I’ve heard that a lot of libraries are banning it. I can’t remember where I read about it though…some internet article anyways. 🙂

        • Ah, I see. Yeah, I thought there had been a legitimate book ban, and I have to admit that for libraries and such, this is one I could see myself agreeing with. It’s nothing but porn with a thin veneer of characters when it gets right down to it, and that’s not really something that should be stuck up in a library, I don’t think. I think people should still have the right to buy it, but putting it in a library- I can see why people might want to stop it. Not to mention I’d love to ban it on grounds of sheer bad writing alone. Bleh. *goes off to bury myself in a zombie steampunk story*

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  4. Everywhere I go people are talking about this book. Although I had no desire to read it, i almost thought that I had to just to see what all the buzz was about. After reading your post…. think I will skip this one. Thanks!

    • Not at all, and I’m glad it helped you make a decision! Honestly though, this thing is horribly written on so many levels it makes me angry just remembering it. I don’t know why it’s received so much attention, but I’m really hoping it dies out soon.

  5. My dear, I have the strongest urge to go to wherever you live and give you a hug, because you just saved me 20 euros. Unfortunatly, this book is having quite a bit of success in Portugal too, even though I don’t even know if it has actually been translated into portuguese. I have to confess that yesterday I actually held it in my hand and considered buying it, but then I saw Terry Pratchett’s Snuff and I bought that instead. However, I’ve been considering buying it (even though I’m normally a romantic novel avoider), but you wonderfully written critique totally changed my mind. My poor brain hasn’t yet recovered from the messy blurb of ink that is Twilight , I don’t think my brain cells would survive another crappy book, specially if it is a BDSM version of Twilight (man, that is so wrong in so many ways…). So, yeah, thanks from saving my braincells from suicide and my wallet from being 20 euros short.

    • Thank you so much! And yeah, you’re so much better off with Terry Pratchett. Things actually happen in his books, and when his characters have romance it’s actually sweet and enjoyable. Not to mention his prose is actually clever and plus- you can’t go wrong with the City Watch.
      And yeah, if you couldn’t stand Twilight- this is really not the book for you. Its origins as a Twilight fanfic are rather easy to see, and it really doesn’t help that almost nothing of the original story was changed (you can find bits of Master of the Universe, which is the original of Fifty Shades, and compare the two. It’s pretty disheartening.)
      I’m happy to help! Anything to keep people from wasting their money on bad books- life’s too short for that 🙂

  6. Mags! You have a voice! It’s adorable! Especially the way you say ‘myriad’. I didn’t actually know how that word was pronounced, so thanks for letting me know. Maybe if Becks does a video review, she will also say it so I know how to pronounce it in British.

    This was quite a funny review actually. The only thing I really know about this book is that it makes many women’s hormones kick in, whereas everyone else wants to kick it in the bin.

    By the way, you look a bit like Peggy from Mad Men, after she changes her appearance in series 2 and looks all fashionable.

    • Thanks! I actually kind of love the word ‘myriad’- I came across it in a vocab lesson way back when and it’s fun to say. I can’t imagine it sounds too different in British apparent from general accent differences, but i don’t know for sure.

      I’m glad you enjoyed it- and yeah, my rage kicked in, rather than hormones. It’s so badly written and nothing freaking happens…

      Mad Men is on my list of shows to watch, but haven’t actually gotten around to. But having done a google image search of the person, I’ll take that as a compliment. 🙂

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  8. Well thank you for this review it has saved me the trouble of dragging myself though this! Always suspected it would be hype…and you confirmed this,,,thank you greatly 🙂

    • Glad to help! And yeah, it seems to be a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon combined with people who grew up reading the Twilight books- and since the 50 Shades is basically Twilight with sex, it makes sense that there would be overhype.

        • I was a Twilight fan too! Way back when, when I was in high school and not very clear-thinking. Though I did get brutally knocked out of my haze when I read Breaking Dawn. Ugh. It worked, but still, it was pretty brutal. That book was so bad.

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  10. Reblogged this on Writerling and commented:
    I’m going to let you all know now that I am definitely NOT a big fan of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. Besides its horrible use of grammar and structure, it encapsulates everything I hate about society and media’s emphasis on blatant misogyny and the abuse = love ideals and how we women should just tolerate arrogant and self-absorbed wannabe Byronic heroes. This is a must read!

  11. Maggie, I am so sorry that you wasted your time and a watching of Iron Man with this literary trash. But thank you for writing this review. It’s nice to be reminded that there are people out there that do have brains and do use them to think rationally. But oh, my goodness, I knew the book was bad, but I had no idea just how bad it was. I’m sure that I still don’t know to the full extent, but that is some knowledge that I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to gain. I know this is an older post, but I really hope that you have thoroughly washed your brain out with some actual literature since then. (Considering that this was written way back in May and considering that this is you I’m talking to, I’m sure you have.)
    I recently met someone who told me that this was one of her favorite books and that she just loves this kind of writing and I died inside. What is wrong with this world???? D:

    • Oh trust me, I did. I went through a rereading of a bunch of really good mysteries, Anna Karenina, and Tolkien’s Letters and Unfinished Tales. And I’m currently reading the second book of Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy, so as far as good reading, I’m doing quite well 🙂
      I really hate the experience of reading this book- but given that I’ve had so many people tell me that it was helpful for them in deciding not to read it, I don’t regret it. If I can steer people away from bad books (and hopefully towards good ones) that’s all I can ask for. And I know what you mean- I have some coworkers who I really like who’ve told me they think the books are great, and I can’t stand it. I usually just stand there stunned and disbelieving- and then I overhear people talking about it and I want to run up to them and yell “Don’t do it! Don’t give in; you’re wasting your time and filling it with trash when there are so much better books out there to read!” Not that they would listen to me, but one can only hope…

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