Fifty Shades of Grey: Book Review
July 3, 2012
By: Rosie Hill
Never one to resist the hype, and after seeing every other woman from the age of 16 to 60 reading this book, I finally gave in and bought a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey. Critics have been raving about it and my friends claimed it was the most beautiful love story since Pride and Prejudice, so understandably I was expecting great things. I guess I was expecting a modern day love story – using text messages instead of handwritten love letters – set against a bustling cosmopolitan backdrop, the kind of book you simply can’t put down. After a few chapters I was shocked. Not due to the explicit sex scenes, I’ll get back to those later, but because it was a colossal disappointment in every aspect.
For those who have no idea what book I am talking about – have you been living under a rock?! – I’ll provide a brief synopsis. Innocent, virginal college student Anastasia Steele interviews impossibly handsome business magnate Christian Grey for the college newspaper after her flatmate falls ill. She falls under the charm of the rich, handsome and charming Christian but concludes they are worlds apart and attempts to put him out of her mind. After some mild stalking on his part, he finds her after the interview and showers her with gifts, only to then present her with a contract. Surprise surprise, perfect Mr Grey isn’t quite as perfect as she thought. He proposes a business arrangement where she becomes his submissive, and effectively hands control of her life over to him, everything from personal hygiene to what clothes she is allowed to wear. Ana is also made to sign a non-disclosure agreement (not enforceable by law) in order to protect his professional reputation. As she gets to know him, she learns that his sexual tastes involve bondage, domination, and sadism, and that childhood abuse left him a deeply damaged individual. The book then follows their relationship, her experimentation into the world of BDSM, and his attempt to reconcile his demons and have a successful, normal relationship.
I feel I could write about this book’s flaws for several pages but I will keep it short here. Ana as a protagonist is completely underdeveloped and seems to unrealistically go from naïve virgin to wanton sex goddess in less than 50 pages. Christian is introduced as a man incredibly set in his ways, and unmoveable to change, yet he is willing to throw away his lifestyle for the love of some girl he has known for less than a week. I know this may seem like a very romantic gesture, but it’s just not believable given the character history you have been previously given. This dramatic turnaround of both Ana and Christian simply made me distrust EL James, which is dangerous ground for any author. There are fundamental flaws in the plot too. How is it possible that twenty-one year old college student Ana has made it through her entire academic life without a laptop? And without ever having been drunk?
And now to the sex. As an erotic novel, sex is at the crux of the tale, but it all just gets a bit ridiculous. Maybe it’s down to personal preference, but I just didn’t find it very arousing in any way at all. I got more stimulation from watching Rafael Nadal play tennis at Wimbledon than reading how Christian and Ana got down and dirty in the shower for the fifth time that evening. I mean really, no man can naturally have that much stamina! It’s not physically possible. I’m not in to all the whips and chains so that part was lost on me, but the writing was just so repetitive. In fact, the book itself is repetitive, told through the character’s quirks. The novel is awash with lip biting, eyebrow raising and flushing crimson, as well as constant references to Ana’s inner goddess. I’m not even exaggerating this for effect, here are two of my favourite quotes, “My inner goddess jumps up and down with cheer-leading pom-poms shouting yes at me.” “My inner goddess sits in the lotus position looking serene except for the sly, self-congratulatory smile on her face.” No word of a lie.
On the subject of repetition, it is important to note that Fifty Shades of Grey is not an original story. EL James herself has admitted that she based her novel on the Twilight saga, with Christian and Ana being sexed up versions of our favourite sparkly vampire and his sour faced wife. Once you get over how incredibly creepy it is to write erotica based on a children’s book, you notice the similarities. I also found it is hard not to notice the similarities between Fifty Shades and Pretty Woman. Both Edward Lewis and Christian Grey are incredibly successful businessmen with devastating good looks and an impressive bank balance to match, but both are also incapable of having a normal loving relationship. In the film, Edward offers to put Vivian up in a swanky apartment so she will want for nothing, much like Christian’s contract to Ana, though without the kinky sex. Well, you never know what happens behind closed doors.
Despite the flaws, there is no doubting this book’s popularity. Fifty Shades of Grey has become the fastest adult paperback novel to sell one million print copies. The first in the erotic trilogy passed the million mark in 11 weeks, beating the previous record of 36 weeks set by Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. The book also broke the weekly record for paperback sales, selling 397,889 copies, according to Nielsen Bookscan.
This may read like a scathing review, but that’s because in most ways it is. The prose is dreadful, the characters one dimensional, the plot unrealistic and the sex disappointing. But once you’ve got over that, there is no denying this book is entertaining, if for entirely the wrong reasons. It’s easy to read, requires little brain power, and escaping into a world you know nothing about is sometimes a pleasant break from reality. Take it for what it is; erotic chick lit trash. Just don’t expect more than that so that you don’t feel you have wasted an afternoon reading it.