Series: Fifty Shades #1
Published by Knopf on 3rd April 2012
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Amazon・ Good Books・Book Depository
When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too – but on his own terms.
Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success – his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family – Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by a need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.
Erotic, amusing, and deeply moving, the Fifty Shades trilogy is a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.
Before I really get this monster of a review started, I’d like to first take a moment to rewrite the above summary, as I feel as though it isn’t quite accurate. Forgive me the repetition, but let’s go over that blurb again. If you read carefully, you’ll notice that I’ve made some changes, albeit very slight ones:
When quirky and loveably vapid supermodel Mary Sue goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian “I Have Emotional Issues and a Great Jawline” Grey, she encounters a man who is sex incarnate, and a world-class emotional predator to boot. The stupidly naïve Mary is startled to realize that she wants this man’s rockin’ bod and, despite his irrational mood swings and unsettling obsession with her ovulation cycle, finds she is desperate to get close to him. And by “close to him,” we mean “have a great deal of degrading and emotionally unfulfilling sex with him.” Same thing, really. Unable to resist Mary’s inability to think for herself and charmingly uninteresting personality, Grey admits he wants her, too – but on his own stupid, stupid terms.
Shocked yet aroused by Grey’s grossly humiliating tastes in eroticism, Ana (she changed her name – just roll with it) spends the entirety of the novel hesitant to accept his conditions. Seriously. That’s essentially the entire plot. For all the trappings of success – his unspecified but conveniently lucrative businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family (the Cullens, only with less backstory) – Grey is a man tormented by demons, and a tragic past that acts as an easy excuse for his ridiculously inappropriate behavior. Sure, he’s messed up. But it’s all right, because he’s a TORTURED SOUL. A TRAGIC HERO, if you will. He’s also EXTREMELY GOOD LOOKING, so that helps.
Anyway, where were we? Oh, right. When the couple embarks on a daringly idiotic, nightmarishly physical affair, Ana discovers Christian “My Abdominal Muscles and Childhood Traumas Free Me from All Relationship Responsibilities” Grey’s secrets and explores her own messed up desires.
And did we mention the RAW SEXUAL APPEAL? There’s quite a lot of it! Hot stuff! Try to read this WITHOUT getting aroused! Possible? Doubtful. You’ll want to avoid pulling this out in a public space – the results are likely to get you slapped with “public indecency” charges! Woo!
As erotic as a burnt piece of toast, as amusing as a stubbed toe, and as deeply moving as an expletive scratched into a bathroom stall, the Fifty Shades trilogy is a tale that will likely drive you to murder. No, really. Save yourself, before it’s too late! We haven’t much time! Quick, before—
No! Please! Don’t do this! I wasn’t doing anything! AAAA—
Did you catch my revisions? Don’t feel bad if you didn’t. It may not be perfect, but the publisher’s description is really very accurate. There were only some small details in need of fixing, and I think that I took care of them nicely.
In all honesty, though, this book is awful. Really, truly, mind-bogglingly awful. I picked it up in the belief that it would be one of those “so bad, it’s good” ventures, terrible for the brain but enriching for the soul, in the sense that we all need a good laugh every now and then. Yes, I honestly expected to find Fifty Shades of Grey funny. I honestly expected to get a decent number of chuckles, if not outright guffaws, from it.
Instead, I got 500 pages of pure, unadulterated rage. Whether I was giving it only a few minutes or an hour of my time, I wound up either yelling at the book or valiantly struggling with an urge to throw it at the nearest wall every time I picked it up.
So let’s just get this out of the way right now:
This book is not romantic.
This book is not sexy.
And, while we’re at it:
Christian Grey is not an attractive, desirable, likeable, or sympathetic love interest.
Anastasia Steele is a pathetic excuse for a heroine and is a disservice to strong female characters everywhere.
Honestly, the popularity that this book enjoys astounds me. I can understand why a reader would find it, if nothing else, entertaining on some carnal level. There is a lot of sex to be had here, and if steaminess is all you’re looking for, then I suppose that you’ll have little to complain about.
I don’t see this as an acceptable excuse, however. You want hot? Fair enough, but could you not find such titillation elsewhere? I don’t read erotica, but I’m sure there is plenty of it out there that is not only sexy, but genuinely well-written and romantic. You can’t just dismiss the inferiority of this book on the basis that it’s porn meant for mindless enjoyment.
“It’s just entertainment, you can’t take it seriously,” you might say. Bull. Why should E.L. James be allowed to popularity and commercial success for contributing little in the way of genuine writing? Why should she be allowed to avoid criticism and even be encouraged to release more of the same?
The answer is that she shouldn’t. Nay, I say! Nay! Bare flesh is not a free pass. You can’t use sex as an excuse for mediocrity and twisted mockeries of what real relationships can and should be.
Let’s break those mockeries down a bit, shall we?
…is a vile excuse for a leading love interest. Yes, he’s handsome. So? Is that what really matters here? I’m not saying that partially basing one’s attraction to another on their looks is a terrible and shameful thing. It’s not. We all do it, and romance isn’t going to work if you don’t find your partner physically appealing. The problem comes in making looks everything, or as a means of excusing whatever ugliness might lurk behind it.
Grey might be attractive, but having stunning cheekbones and a sculpted physique does not somehow make up for his mentality. This man is controlling and obsessive, using Anastasia’s phone to track her and constantly showing up in order to make sure that she behaves in the way that he wishes. Concern for another’s wellbeing is one thing, and then there’s stalking. Grey slowly tightens his hold on Anastasia, cutting her off from her friends and social life so that he can have her all to himself.
Here are some examples of Christian Grey’s particular brand of affection:
- He is hostile to any other man who may spend time with Anastasia and possibly threaten his possession of her.
- He makes Anastasia send him emails and text messages so that he can know where she is and what she’s doing at all hours of the day.
- When Anastasia takes a trip via plane, he buys out the seat next to hers so that nobody is able to sit with her during the flight.
- When Anastasia goes out of her way to avoid him, and he turns up anyway, manipulating her family so that they not only approve of her dating him, but actively encourage her to spend more time with him.
- When Anastasia wishes to talk seriously about their relationship beyond its sexual component, he shuts her up with, well, more sex.
What’s most annoying about this behavior is that it is, for the most part, portrayed as being something romantic and desirable. It just shows that he cares! That he truly loves her! That he wants to be with her despite everything!
No. This is not, ladies and gentlemen, touching, nor is it something to seek out in a potential relationship. You deserve better. I don’t care how “great” the sex is.
Ah, the sex. Fifty Shades of Grey contains plenty, and none of it is seductive in the least. On the contrary: It’s unpleasant, it’s creepy, and it’s exceedingly uncomfortable. Grey pulls Anastasia into his fetishes despite her hesitations, leaving her feeling demeaned and disparaged on more than one occasion. After “punishing” her for the first time, spanking her whilst simultaneously assuring her that she will find enjoyment in it, Anastasia is so horrified and embarrassed that she has to call her mother and sob into the phone. Of course, she can’t mention any specifics, because he forbids her from speaking of the true nature of their relationship. Hooray! Lies! Humiliation! Coercion! The stuff that dreams are made of!
This is not moving or erotic. This is downright disturbing. Grey is reducing Anastasia to an object designed to satisfy his own desires. Oh, sure, she enjoys their trysts as well (for the most part), but that’s secondary to his needs. And does he not have to ensure that she get something out of their agreement? If he doesn’t, she’ll leave him, after all. Curious how it all comes back to his gain, isn’t it?
So Grey is domineering and manipulative, attempting to control everything from Anastasia’s diet to how she spends her every free moment. His moods swing so wildly and so often that Anastasia lives in a constant state of fear, worried that he may at any moment become upset and punish her. When he acts like a decent human being, she’s genuinely relieved, though only to an extent. Who knows what might set him off, after all?
Yes, this is clearly how a loving relationship should work. One party should base their every waking moment on the whims of the other, afraid of what might happen if they do not. A romance for the ages!
BUT WAIT. Any issues that Anastasia may take with the situation are all ultimately unfounded, because Grey was sexually abused when he was younger and had a less-than-loving mother. Of course! Because of his tragic past, his lack of decency is justified! Plus, he listens to opera and plays the piano. Clearly, a depressing backstory + sophistication = good boyfriend material. Right?
I don’t think so. You can’t justify emotional and physical abuse on the basis of some past trauma. Having been taken advantage of by an older woman as a child does not make Grey some kind of tragic hero. Of course he wasn’t able to escape the experience unscathed. Of course he needs help. But that assistance should not have to come from a girl, far out of her depth, who is trying to cope with the stress brought about by an overwhelming and frightening sexual relationship.
Speaking of which, it’s time to take a look at:
Anastasia Steele (“Mary Sue”)
…is an uninteresting and incredibly frustrating protagonist, because there’s so little substance to her. She’s obviously gorgeous, and yet she’s constantly bemoaning her plain looks and how much prettier her friend is. She’s also clumsy (*gasp*), which is apparently some kind of horrific tendency to have. Why do writers insist that being generally uncoordinated is a genuine character flaw, that this trait alone singlehandedly makes an individual realistic and well-rounded?
And this truly seems to be the only “weakness” that Anastasia suffers from. She’s stunning, yet sees herself as ordinary, and therefore requires constant reassurance from Grey (and everyone else) that she’s lovely. Humility! She believes that nobody will find her attractive, despite the fact that every single male character in the story besides her stepfather wants to date her. Loveable naivety! She’s not like other girls, because she would rather spend her nights curled up in an armchair reading Bronte and Austin. How very bohemian of her!
Give me a break. So you read English novels. This does not make you some special little snowflake, better than all of your peers and somehow more of an individual. Get over yourself, and stop acting as though an appreciation of books puts you above others. It doesn’t. And considering how many authors like to try to pull the “she reads old books, therefore she is quirky and like no other” trope, it isn’t original in the least.
Once Grey comes into the picture, Anastasia loses any sense of identity that she had (and that’s not saying much). Once again, we get a female character whose entire life becomes defined by the man that she’s enthralled with. She eats, breathes, and sleeps Christian Grey. There is nothing else in her world that has any sort of significance. When she does stand up for herself, whether it be to voice her concerns about the “arrangement” that Christian pushes on her or otherwise, she’s immediately pacified by his sexual appeal.
This I find particularly infuriating. Every single time Anastasia actually attempts to think for herself, Christian swoops in with a smoldering glance or sly smile, and she gives up. Good God, woman! Learn to control yourself! She has such trouble thinking straight when she’s around Grey because the smallest glance from him sends her into paroxysms of desire. I get that he’s good looking, and that his appearance gets to you. But you cannot honestly tell me that he is so bewitching that you lose all self-control around him at the most minute provocation. Heaven forbid he glance at you while you’re out and about in public. You may just rip off your clothes and take him right there in the supermarket check-out line. At least wait until you get to the parking lot!
As for the other characters: Forget about them. They’re one-dimensional and serve no real purpose other than to set up the next scenario in which our duo can get it on in new and wildly inappropriate ways.
And, similarly flat and useless in design and execution, we have:
Between the many scenes of smut we have a plot so threadbare that it would service as adequate material for a Lifetime film. The story essentially boils down to this:
Christian: Have sex with me.
Anastasia: I’m uncertain! I want more from this relationship! We need to talk!
Christian: I want to be your dom. Sign this contract.
Anastasia: No! It makes me uncomfortable!
Christian: Your resistance only makes me want you more.
Anastasia: You frighten me!
Christian: Did I mention that I had an abusive childhood? Also, I’m working to end world hunger.
Anastasia: Your story has moved me!
And that’s about it. The entire book literally consists of these exchanges interspersed with orgasms and Anastasia’s stupid “inner goddess” doing backflips.
Things conclude on a happy note, however, with Anastasia breaking it off with Christian after he punishes her too harshly and she realizes just how messed up he truly is. I’m guessing that an ending in which the protagonist is left sobbing in anguish is supposed to be tragic, but I found the whole affair a positively cheerful one. Good for you, Ana! You’ve moved on and can now find someone new, someone who treats you right!
Of course, there are two more books, so my hopes of her not ending up with Christian are slim. But I can dream.
Last but not least, let’s talk about the writing.
Guess what? It’s bad. Shocking, I know. Insultingly simple in both style and form, and filled to the brim with details being told instead of shown. James also apparently thinks that throwing in the occasional dictionary-necessitating word is enough to give her “tale” a classy and sophisticated air. Well, it isn’t, and the attempt comes across as silly and contrived because of this. The end result is a work that seems more like an unusually well-written fanfiction than a genuine piece of literature. Appropriate, considering the series’ origins.
James also likes to reuse the same phrases and scenarios every chance she can get. Let’s take a look at some of her favorites:
- Christian demands that Anastasia eat something, and Anastasia says that she is not hungry in response. Threats, double entendres, and weirdly sexual mastication ensue.
- Christian instructs Anastasia to stop biting her lip, else he loses control and takes her immediately.
- Christian reprimands Anastasia for rolling her eyes.
- Anastasia compares her orgasms to the feeling of shattering into pieces. (Sounds painful.)
- Anastasia describes Christian’s jeans as hanging on his hips “in that way.” (Wonderfully descriptive, James. Good job.)
- Anastasia’s roommate realizes that something is not quite right about her relationship with Christian and attempts to get Ana to open up. Anastasia tries to redirect the conversation by asking about her friend’s activities. This tactic works every single time.
- Anastasia says “oh my” or some more colorful variation of the phrase during sex.
The last object on this list is undoubtedly the most annoying. It’s used every other page, and it drove me absolutely insane. It got to the point where I would actually tell the book to shut up every time the accursed exclamation made an appearance. A drinking game could be created around this particular tendency alone, though I fear that doing so would lead to severe alcohol poisoning and madness.
I’d like to extend my strongest contempt to the following parties:
-Everyone involved in the upcoming film adaptation of this garbage.
Don’t read this. Not even as a joke. It’s just not worth it. And if you feel that you must, I suggest tackling it in small increments. Reading more than a dozen or so pages in one sitting may very well lead to a whole host of unpleasant side effects, given the intensity of the mental anguish that will surely result. I still haven’t been able to fully rid myself of the twitching.
And, for God’s sake, try to refrain from rolling your eyes. We wouldn’t want a certain someone showing up to punish you for your nerve.