DISCLAIMER: This is long, and contains spoilers. We’re also going to pretend that I’m E. L. James and that I don’t believe in proofreading.
Over the weekend I read the Fifty Shades Trilogy.
I’ve never read a straight through and through romance novel, except for a couple that I found in the library of the Beverly Hills mansion where I spent one (awesome) summer when I was like 6. I squirrelled away those books in the back of my jeans and hid them under my pillows to read during the night, along with every other unsavory-for-my-age book I could find. A disturbing tid-bit for you — one of the books was an instructional guide to a woman’s orgasm. It was in my nightstand one day, and then one day it wasn’t. I remember being horrified, thinking that I was going to get into trouble, but my grandparents never said a word. Later, I saw my grandmother reading it in the kitchen as I was passing through. She didn’t look up, and I didn’t say anything. It wasn’t until years later that I realized just how, um, ew, the implications of her reading that book were.
Anyway, now that I’ve sufficiently put you off of your next meal - what I was getting to was that romance novels are not my thing. It’s rare to read a book about the human condition that doesn’t include love or sex, and I actually enjoy reading about developing relationships (and who doesn’t love a good sex scene, eh?) but in general, I need something else to inspire interest, so romance novels are never on my “to-read” list.
I decided to read Fifty Shades of Grey after hearing that it was the first true fan fiction to explode outside of its underground, sometimes seedy corner of the internet and be published and have major movie studios bidding over the film rights. I didn’t know much about it, other than it was originally based on Twilight and had a bit of BDSM in the story. I should confess that I am not at all a Twilight fan. I’m more adequately described as a Twilight hater, but I really don’t care about it enough to have a fervent opinion.
The story is narrated by Anastasia Steele (I know, her name is soooo romance novel, right? A close friend of mine is named Alexandria Steele and I’ve always teased her about her Harlequin Books name.). Ana, as E.L. James’ narrator is called for short, starts off living in Seattle with her best friend, working at a hardware store and finishing up an English degree.
Ana, of course, is gorgeous but doesn’t at all realize it, and is completely oblivious to the constant advances from the men in her life. When Kate - her journalist best friend - becomes ill, Ana gets bullied into doing an interview for her with Christian Grey, the young billionaire CEO of a powerful company. Of course, he is the most beautiful man that has ever existed, ever, in the whole world.
And of course he’s completely smitten with her. And, of course, she with him. But, of course, he has a secret. He’s dark, and his interest in her is not necessarily romantic. He’s a sexual Dominant, and he wants her to be his new submissive partner. He even has a contract and a non-disclosure agreement for her to sign. Of course because she’s so damn taken with him, this sweet, virginal, insecure girl, considers his offer. And, of course, because this is fan fiction written by a woman who wants to bone Edward Cullen, when Ana resists, he realizes that holy fuck he’s completely in love with her and will do anything in the world to keep her with him. Even give up something he’s passionate about that has been instrumental in his life from very early on and that he feels is integral to keeping his world together.
I didn’t know anything about E. L. James as a person before I read the books, but reading them I could tell that she was older. I knew she was writing for characters far younger than she herself was and that she had no idea how to. I mean, in the beginning of the story, Christian tosses a shopping bag over his shoulder. What is this, 1996? Who tosses anything over their shoulder anymore?
Ugh, Christian. He was hot in appearance and *some* mannerisms but infuriatingly broken, and his dialogue was terrible. His favorite thing to say? “Fair point well made”. WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? He also speaks in these full, complete sentences, calls Anastasia “Miss Steele”, uses words that no one uses - no matter how rich and professional - and yet was only supposed to be in his late twenties. I mean did the author base him on Christopher Plummer or something?
Another example of how out of touch James is? The outfit choices. These people are supposed to be in their twenties, and they dress like people in their twenties…in 1996. Wrap dresses and mini skirts and pinstriped jackets with jeans and just stop.
I remember really wanting to like Ana, but then it became clear that she had no self respect. At first I appreciated her insecurity and her willingness to try new things, but it was pretty obvious pretty early on that she was ready to give herself over completely to Christian in order to make him happy, almost no matter what. It turned my stomach when she eventually began viewing his possessiveness and control/anger issues over her life as just an adorable little “mercurial” quirk. I mean, he was literally like STAY HERE AND DO WHAT I SAY ALL OF THE TIMES AND IF YOU PROTEST FINE BUT I’LL STILL FORCE YOU TO BOW TO ME SOMEHOW and she’s all “oh, my adorable widdle baby man!” :/
Apparently, the sexual content is what has everyone in an uproar. OK. Hmm. The sex scenes actually became too plentiful late into the second book. And as someone who is completely and entirely appreciative of kink, including submission, that’s saying a lot. I was totally looking forward to reading about them fucking, even after the deflation of reading that a “hard limit” for Christian was breath control. I actually wanted to get to the heart of why Christian was as fucked up as he was, and with them fucking literally EVERY TIME they interacted, it was dragged out far too long. So long that I became pretty ambivalent towards Christian and his fucked up past until the last 100 pages or so of Freed.
Other random things I didn’t care for:
- ~ Women do not have orgasms every time you play with their nipples for an extended length of time. Men, please do not think that we do. I mean some lucky ones might, but I’d venture to guess that it’s pretty damn rare.
- ~ I can’t look at anyone through my lashes. Maybe the people in this book have freakishly long lashes or something, IDK, but they are always doing it.
- ~ Christian came after her, every single time. She would explode around him into a million pieces or shatter into a thousand or whichever corny way her orgasm was described for a particular sex scene and seconds later Christian would shout “Oh, Ana!” and be done. OK. Stop it. I felt like James didn’t want to end the sex scenes without both parties coming and I would have been totally fine with more scenes fading into the ether.
- ~ Christian’s issues stem from his early childhood, before he was adopted by an affluent family. He calls his mother “the crack whore”. And, so does Anastasia. I hated it. Damn, I mean, damn. It turned my stomach. I would go further into why, but that would spoil everything a bit too much, I think. (If you read it, or have read it, I’d love to discuss it with you!) Just, stop calling her that.
- ~ The absolute phoniness of Anastasia. She’s a Mary Sue if I ever read one, I swear. It was obvious that many of her personality traits were simply there to placate the reader into hoping everything worked out for her. Her goodness was boring. Even as she struggled with the way her sexuality was blossoming with Christian she was just, too, good.
- ~ Christian is described as beautiful, rich, successful, controlled, and controlling - but broken. A “man”, but a “boy” as well. His character was sculpted entirely to please all of the different wants of E.L. James and many other women - the primal urges to have a man that can and will order you around, and the maternal instincts that make us crave the same man be also sensitive and troubled but only if our love in particular is the salve for his wounds. But he seemed…flat. Despite the fact that everything pretty much revolved entirely around him, I never really felt as if I got under his skin.
- ~ Anastasia’s inability to figure out or make up her mind about anything bothered even me - the most indecisive person on the planet. Of course because a strong, independent woman is not supposed to want a man that will try to dominate her, Ana has to fight with herself internally all of the time about it, but how often the girl can tetter totter between wanting her ass flogged and being afraid of his spankings is beyond me. Do you want to play or do you want to not play? Are you into being tied up and hit only because you think it’ll please him or because you are find it incredibly hot all on your own? These are questions that I think most people would know the answer to, deep down inside. Ana, apparently, has no fucking clue.
- ~ The Jack Hyde story. We could have done without the damsel in distress thing happening again - it was already pretty clear that Christian would have done absolutely anything to protect his woman. Or maybe just if the Hyde story was better done? Or if Leila hadn’t happened?
But it wasn’t all entirely bad. I guess. I don’t know. I guess it was. I still found myself enjoying it though. I never felt like quitting, no matter how off the wall the story became. I wanted them to make it, despite how insufferable they both were.
There were a few things that I liked about the story:
- ~ I liked some of the side characters very much, like Taylor and Mia. I also liked Elliott, despite the fact that he created “laters, baby” and I wanted to punch myself in the nose each time I read any variation of it.
- ~ Before they became too often and too repetitive, I did enjoy the sex scenes. Fuck yeah being sexually dominated, and I find power exchange/BDSM to be fascinating, so it was difficult to not love reading about a beautiful man partaking in this sort of stuff.
- ~ I really, really enjoyed Fifty Shades of Christian. I would read the entire series over again, gladly, from his point of view. Partly because, as I mentioned, he was completely flat despite his complexities and I want to know more of what was actually going on in his head, and partly because I liked that he spoke pretty normally for a 27 year old top one percent-er throughout his narration.
- ~ I liked that the Chapters picked up immediately after each other, in the same scene. I’m not sure why. I guess because most books that you read, at the end of a chapter it’s more often than not that they move on to a new day, a new place, a new something. In these books, the chapter breaks were more for dramatic effect than story propulsion.
- ~ I liked the way Christian played around with his email signature.
- ~ I liked Ana’s stupid inner monologue. I liked her saying Whoa and Jeez and all that. I’ve spoken to a few others that hated it, but I didn’t.
- ~ As a lip biter, I appreciated how often Ana was caught biting her own. Reading the books back to back it seemed like she did it way too much, but, then so do I.
- ~ I liked that finally, Christian saw Elena for what she was and opened up to his family.
- ~ I liked the random little bits of information that were thrown into the story for really no reason, like at one point Ana gets up after breakfast to brush her teeth and thinks to herself how Christian brushes his before eating and it makes no sense to her. It made it/her/him/them seem more…real? I don’t know. I just liked it.
- ~ I had a love/hate relationship with the personification of the little voices in the back of Ana’s mind. Her subconscious and her inner goddess, as she referred to them. It teeters a bit toward love because I always found myself smiling when she said things like “my subconscious sags into her armchair” or “my inner goddess slumbers on her chaise longue.”
- ~ Oh, did you think that was a typo up there? “Longue”? No. That’s the way it is in the book. Page 32 of the third book. EDIT: So chaise longue is actually correct and not a typo. I wish that that would make these last two bullet points worthy of deletion, but no — I’ll just highlight another of the of mistakes (there’s no shortage):
- Page 339 of Darker: "Hey," Christian's says gently as he pulls me into his arms, “please don’t cry, Ana, please,” he begs. Christian’s what says what? His mouth? His penis? Oh, just Christian - not his anything. Annnddd this brings me to what bothered me the most about the books —
I can’t remember the last time I spent money to read something so terribly written. Oh, wait, yes I can - I read Twilight. Fitting, I guess. I think that the editor was drunk while looking over the manuscripts because hell - so many grammatical errors, so much repetitive language, overuse of analogies, stiff and unrealistic dialogue (the appointment with Flynn was PAINFUL), I could go on and on. That can’t really be blamed on E.L. James - that’s something her editor should have really ridden her on, as an inexperienced author. Good books have great editors, and that’s really evident here. I believe that Fifty Shades could have been much better had someone taken the time to really go at it with a red pen. There’s never any excuse for misspellings in a published work. Shame on you, Vintage!
All in all, despite the plethora of issues, if you can “let go”, Fifty Shades is interesting and definitely a page turner. And I feel like I need to hang my head in shame for this but, I really, really enjoyed reading it. If it seems like I’m fighting with myself during this review, I’m sorry. To be clear I liked the books, for the most part. I really did. I’m just ashamed that I liked them because they were so damn bad. Let’s chalk it up to literary escapism, shall we? Oooo God, Christian actually says things like “Shall I…?” Who the fuck says “shall” when not being humorous? Writing it is one thing, but saying it is another…
Addendum - movie casting!
I really feel like this series should be made into porn. Similar to the New Sensations Romance series - which is actually fairly well written, acted, and plotted out for pornography. I could definitely see Xander Corvus as Christian Grey and maybe Zoe Voss, Allie Haze, or Lexi Belle as Anastasia.
But, since it’s being made into a major studio film, I have no idea. Because really, unless they absolutely gut this book and add in a story more compelling than “will she or won’t she let him cane and clamp her”, I can’t think of one reason why a respectable actor should join. And the characters are too old for you to cast complete unknowns - I think that only works for those that center on teenagers.