A few years ago, when the movie had just come out, a woman was talking to me at a bus stop, and we ended up talking about the Fifty Shades of Grey movie. It was a while ago, so I don't remember the exact exchange, only that she asked me if I wasn't just "so excited for the (Fifty Shades of Grey) movie?" When I said no, she asked me first if I'd even read the book, then whether I'd finished it and if so, had I read it properly? At the time of this exchange, I'd only read about fifty pages of the book. But I had read chapter by chapter breakdowns and seen a number of quotes pulled from the book. This seemed like sufficient evidence that this book was Not For Me and for several years I managed to stick with my decision to avoid this fandom. But people kept asking me to review this book for my blog, especially once I started reviewing romance and erotica almost exclusively - or I'd get people telling me my opinions weren't worth two cents until I'd actually read the book, and oh, ouch, my pride.
It began to feel like this book and I were star-crossed, and destined to clash.
For those of you who don't already know the story, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is about a virginal college student named Ana(stasia) who gets involved with a billionaire named Christian Grey. He is charmed by her innocence and submissiveness but warns her away because of his dark desires. Ana is so wowed by his looks and his money that she refuses, and so he tempts her into the sinister BDSM lifestyle, and Ana adores him so much that she endures it, hoping to win him back to the light.
Yes, I'm being a little facetious. In case you couldn't tell. (Insert winky-face emoji here.)
When this book first showed up on Goodreads, I was intrigued by the summary. I like dark romances and this one sounded like a modern Gothic. Sinister billionaires in dark Seattle towers are only a step removed from dukes dwelling in crumbling castles on the English moors. However, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY disappoints in that quarter, as the vast majority of the book is them talking about engaging in a BDSM relationship without actually making it official. Bar a few bondage-light sessions and a bit of spanking and toys, there's nothing particularly racy about the sex in this book. In my opinion. It's also boring. Honestly, how many times can you flash the BDSM contract at us? If I wanted to look at official documents all day, I'd be an accountant. Is this sex or an offer for a time share?
Another issue that many of those better than me have already pointed out is the relationship between Ana and Christian: it isn't healthy, and not only is it not typical of a BDSM relationship (and gets a number of things wrong in potentially harmful ways), it's also not a healthy relationship, period. Many of the things that Christian does look an awful lot like emotional abuse. I get that this is fiction and that people expect to be entertained in fiction so fictional relationships often don't reflect the reality of "normal" healthy relationships because those seem boring by comparison, but when a man is using his anger and frustration as an outlet when he uses belts and whips on his submissive partner, stalking her via GPS and hired help, and micromanaging her eating habits, you can't help but think to yourself, "There's a problem here." He also appears to confuse BDSM dungeons with prostitution, rigorously defends his underage relationship with a married woman as a teenager, and uses things like natural filament rope in his bondage extravaganzas, which could do a lot of physical harm.
Then there's the fact that the writing in this book simply is not very good.
First, like many erotica authors, E.L. James appears to have some verbal tics, or words that she just uses so repetitively that you not only notice but they begin to pull you out of the story. "Cream" is not one of them, thank God, but some others that I noticed off the top of my head are "I peer/peek up," "Holy shit/crap!", "oh my," "I flush," "murmur," and "delicious." Sometimes, especially in the case of "I flush," these will appear two- or three- times to a page. I'm very surprised an editor did not challenge this.
Subconscious/Inner Goddess Greatest Hits:
-: I flush at the waywardness of my subconscious - she's doing her happy dance in a bright red hula skirt at the thought of being his (67).
-: ...my very small inner goddess sways in a gentle victorious samba (78).
-: My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves (137).
-: My inner goddess is jumping up and down, clapping her hands like a five-year-old (176).
-: "And...swallowing semen. Well, you get an A in that."
I flush, and my inner goddess smacks her lips together, glowing with pride (256).
-: I examine the list, and my inner goddess bounces up and down like a small child waiting for ice cream (257).
-: My subconscious runs, screaming, and hides behind the couch (259).
-: My inner goddess has a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the outside of her room (326).
-: My inner goddess pouts at me, failing miserably to hide her disappointment (357).
-: My subconscious is furious, Medusa-like in her anger, hair flying, her hands clenched around her face like Edvard Munch's The Scream (360).
-: My inner goddess is doing the dance of the seven veils (362).
-: My inner goddess is standing on the podium awaiting her gold medal (446).
-: My subconscious is frantically fanning herself, and my inner goddess is swaying to some primal carnal rhythm (485).
-: My subconscious has found her Nikes and she's on the starting blocks (502).
Am I the only one who was picturing Ana's inner goddess/subconscious as, like, a smaller cartoonish version of her, like Lizzie McGuire's alter ego?
Weird Sex Descriptions:
-: "Aargh!" I cry as I feel weird pinching sensation deep inside me as he rips through my virginity (117).
-: I sit staring at the screen, and part of me, a very moist and integral part of me that I've only become acquainted with very recently, is seriously turned on (186).
-: I eye Christian's toothbrush. It would be like having him in my mouth (76).
-: "No one's ever said no to me before. And it's so - hot" (348).
-: He reaches between my legs and pulls on the blue string - what?! - and gently takes my tampon out and tosses it into the nearby toilet (430).
I would give this a lower rating but I'm rounding up slightly for unintentional hilarity - especially that tampon scene - and for the fact that the companion book from Christian's POV, GREY, was so, so, so much worse. Seriously, if you think Grey is bad in this book, his eponymous retelling of their 'romance' makes him look like Patrick Bateman's bondage-obsessed cousin. Ugh.
1.5 out of 5 stars