Monday, March 11, 2013

6 Heart Review: Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James

Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades #1)
EL James

Page Count: 514

Release Date: 12 April 2012
Publisher: Vintage Books (Random House)
Source: Complimentary copy provided in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

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 the 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.


Alright, alright, long-awaited and long-dreaded, my review for the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey—the "BDSM erotica novel that swept the world"—is finally here.

I think I need to clear something up, first. Fifty Shades of Grey is hardly BDSM literature; in fact, it's hardly erotic literature. It has explicit sex scenes and breaks readers into the world of sex toys and equipment, yes (for those of us who never knew what a Cat o' Nine Tails or kegel balls were—psh, amateurs)—but if this is what people are being introduced to as "erotica," no wonder they've been severely disappointed. To those who haven't been disappointed, or have even been ridiculously enchanted by James's series: what. the. fuck. is wrong with you??? Pornographic writing and a list of submissive rules/toys do NOT equate to erotica. Take it from me, who's read dirtier, sexier, filthier, and way more taboo than this. Please, just trust me on this one.

This book isn't evil because of its portrayal of an "unhealthy relationship," which is what I'm hearing from a lot of reviewers, or at least the conservative ones. The BDSM lifestyle has nothing to do with domestic abuse or inequality between partners; in a sense, it's power play—roleplaying for pleasure, and is perfectly sane and perfectly safe. I've seen many D/s relationships (in real life and in other books) that are way more tasteful than in Christian and Anastasia, but I won't divulge because this isn't a lesson about BDSM. The point is, if you can't stand the idea of pain for pleasure, you shouldn't be complaining about the "unhealthy relationship" in the first place. As for me, I can handle whipping, I can handle tears, I can handle bruises, and I can handle pain, but what I can't tolerate, is the disgustingly unrealistic dynamic between Christian as a Domme and Ana as a sub.

James has committed no crime in writing about such a relationship; her only sin is glamorizing and falsifying it. It is a miserable portrayal of erotica and BDSM fiction—a poor, inaccurate, and unrealistic picture of a D/s relationship—and I'm sorry if anyone who's never read erotica before has been unfortunate enough to be broken into by Fifty Shades of Grey. Anastasia Steele is a bad initiator, and if you're a smut-virgin, you deserve much better than this.

For starters, it doesn't even give you details of the relationship, aside from a list of hard and soft limits, a few unremarkable spanking scenes, some naughty uses for gray ties (from a man named Grey with gray eyes... ooooh!), and ONE exceptional—I'll admit—love scene involving a flogger. But that's it. All 500-something pages revolve around Ana mulling about the non-disclosure agreement she's so afraid to sign... no juicy deets on what the contract will actually promise.

I'm not trying to kill the hype here, because I actually wanted to like this book. You'll see my rating is way more generous than I feel it deserves, because I do get why people fell for this book, at least partially, and will explain more about this later.

People have said this is smut for smart women. No nO no No NO. This is the opposite of smut for smart women. These are presumably the same people who tell unsuspecting readers to "open up their minds" and give BDSM a try because it isn't all that smutty, it isn't all that bad. Well of course the fuck it isn't bad, because it isn't actually BDSM! You want real BDSM, real down and dirty kinky BDSM? Try Rachel Kramer Bussel's anthologies. Try Alison Tyler's. Try Carrie's Story, for Chrissakes, but if you've never tried erotica, do not read Fifty Shades of Grey; you will hate start off and end up hating the genre, which would be an unspeakable shame.

As for the characters... this is where I'll start getting nasty.

Anastasia is probably the dumbest fucking narrator I've ever encountered in any book. I'm not kidding you. However, literally every man she encounters is smitten with her; she has multiple suitors throughout the book, which is inappropriate for her so-so looks and awkward, dim-witted, and terribly (and I mean TERRIBLY) naïve personality. I don't get it... even she doesn't get it. Which probably means it's just a fantasy on James's part, and perhaps even just an illusion! But I won't go there.

She does have slight relatable humor to her, but it's just that: very slight. That's the only good thing I can say about her. She contradicts herself (and not in that way that makes me sympathize) and apparently is an academic, though she doesn't sound at all intellectual, save her sporadic references to classic literature in comparison to her own life. These, along with her poor attempts at self-deprecation ("my hair never behaves, ugh!!") make her even more dislikable. All in all, she says the stupidest things, does the stupidest things, and lets her huge doe-eyed crush on Christian Grey affect her in the stupidest ways. No wonder he had such a compulsion to beat her all the time; throughout the book, I wanted to give her a good whipping myself.

Christian Grey is also a problem. He's handome, rich as sin, oozes sex appeal, and cares for the ordinary and unintelligent Ana. Basically, he doesn't exist. He, too, says weird, uncharacteristic things that makes me wonder if he's an android a vegetable (possibly) and is also kind of an ass. A self-proclaimed "fifty shades of fucked up," he lives shamelessly and opulently... because he can. And I'm totally picking on him in this review because... I can. He's supposedly got a dark, alluring past that isn't ever fully disclosed. Thanks for telling us, but for not explaining, EL James. Really, thank you!

The only good thing about him is his attractiveness, which I guess is the only reason why Ana likes him. This shows how shallow the basis of their relationship is. I picture him to be sexy as hell; I mean, physically, Ana doesn't skimp on the details. I'm sure he's a babe. But otherwise, he sounds rather bipolar, creepy, stiff... more like a serial killer than anything. He actually stalks Ana at one point. I wanted to swoon over his good looks, but found it hard to. 

To make matters worse, Christian finds Ana absolutely fascinating, but like I've mentioned, I can't see why. The relationship is even less convincing in that respect, and even less enjoyable to read about for 500 pages.

Long story short: the characters sucked. The romance sucked, because frankly, there wasn't really any.

Moving onto the next worst element of this book: the style. EL James's writing is simplistic (but not in the poetic way) with the occasional out-of-place SAT word thrown in for good measure. Ana's stream-of-consciousness first-person narrative is often difficult to follow—rather elementary in tone, like a middle schooler's diary—and I surprised myself that I even got through the whole thing. I think the quality of writing is some of the worst I've seen published, with lots of telling rather than showing (see my quotes below for references) and dialogue that's choppy, forced, and stilted.

Aside from the poor composition, James seems to have an affinity for foil packets, dry murmurs (how does one dryly murmur, anyway??), gasping, wide eyes, the word jeez, and the six holys (fuck, moses, hell, crap, shit, and cow, as in "I'm turned on. Christian is so sexy. Holy moses!"). If you can get through 500 pages of holy moseses, then be my guest.

I know this is only the first in a three-book series (I'll be reviewing the next two... don't know whether to be excited or to burst into tears), but the ending was what was fifty shades of fucked up; Mr. Grey himself doesn't even compare. It has this cliffhanger that doesn't leave me hanging—the absolute worst—and it's almost as if James just wrote this huge 1500-page fanfic about a stalkerish billionaire and a dumbass college student, then chopped it up into three to create a "trilogy." Oh wait.

There isn't much else I can pick on; in summary, the characters are weak, the dialogue is weak, the style is pitiful, and the plot is pretty mellow, nothing fancy. It doesn't live up to the hype at all, but fuck me, I read the whole fuckin' thing in two days.

See, this is where my review sort of does a 180 and I start praising Fifty. You didn't see this coming, did you?

I think it's the storyline. Like in Twilight, there's an irresistible troubled hero—who, I cannot emphasize enough, is really poorly portrayed and quite stalkerish/pathetic—and his uncontrollable compulsions for a girl who's wrong in every way for him. I'm a glutton for these kinds of stories, so yes, that is why I kept reading. Everything—the style, the characters, the sex—is weak, but the appeal factor is strong, definitely strong, and that's why I (unfairly) am giving this one 6 hearts: because I kept reading, and fuck me, because I actually wanted to.

So let's put it like this: The characterization, style, dialogue, BDSM elements, and sex scenes deserve 2-3 hearts.

The intrigue factor, the fact that I kept reading and actually wanted to know what happened next? 7-8 hearts. I guess the story itself is good, but the poor writing and Ana's idiocy/ignorance creates this irritating shadow over the entire read. Even the sex, which you'd think would be the foundation of an erotic romance, is very mediocre... which is a euphemism for very bad. I don't think any of them were remotely arousing (minus the one flogging scene at the end SPOILER START which coincidentally, is also when Ana leaves Christian SPOILER END) because they were ALL THE SAME.  And let's not forget the most absurd loss of virginity I've ever read in my life. I've definitely definitely read much better erotica. It's safe to say the love scenes aren't what make this book enjoyable—I could've done without them. And considering this is an erotic romance novel, that's saying a lot.

Rather, it's the emotions, the overwhelming darkness, that keeps the story moving and Mr. Grey mesmerizing. There's a certain tenderness in getting to know him; he's got this dark, painful past, and she's got nothing. She wants to know him, but he won't let her, and this desperation is at once startlingly draining and hauntingly engaging.

So overall? I weigh the factors and give it 6 out of 10 hearts. I'm certainly not saying there's anything substantial, anything sexy, or anything I get out of this series. I'm just saying I liked it enough.

Do you understand why this is so frustrating??

I hated everything about the book, but I was so immersed in the relationship and the elusive Mr. Grey, that I actually ended up kind of liking it as a whole. It's weirdly addicting, like those powdered donut holes you hate and know are bad for you, but keep eating anyway (as EL James would so eloquently hazard).

[UPDATE #1]: I definitely liked the sequel better! Read what I thought about Fifty Shades Darker by clicking here.

[UPDATE #2]: Check out my review of the last book in the series, Fifty Shades Freed, by clicking here!


Grey is intriguing... while I don't understand Ana as a character, I do understand her attraction for him // I'm mildly curious as to what happens in the next book // Christian Grey weirds me out but I do feel sympathetic for him // Taylor, the bodyguard, is a total catch. I ship him and Ana // The emails between Ana and Christian are the only tolerable correspondence they two have... they're actually witty! But the in-person conversations... ugh. See "Cons" below


They fall in deep, desperate love in like, two weeks // Sounds like it was written by a ten-year-old // Unpronounceable vocabulary words randomly thrown in the middle of sentences // Unrealistic dialogue //Ana is probably the most dislikable protagonist in history // Grey is the creepiest fuck ever // Cookie-cutter secondary characters, e.g. the likable brother, the doting mother, the best friend who has it all, the guy friend who secretly has the hots for Ana, etc. // The "dark past" isn't really... dark? Sorry. I've seen worse // Ridiculous and inaccurate portrayal of a submissive lifestyle // BDSM just isn't kinky // Sex scenes are awkward or just outrageously underdone // Overall not arousing // Ana literally calls Christian "Fifty shades"..... ok // Ending is balls


"I enjoy punishing you. I've wanted to spank you since you asked me if I was gay."

I flush at the memory. Jeez, I wanted to spank myself after that question.
So this book does have a sense of humor, but for the most part, it's unintentional. Since I've expressed how I feel about James's insipid and extremely uncomfortably crafted writing, below, are some quotes I found hilarious—prime examples of the author/narrator, unawares, being humorous. These, I love for all the wrong reasons:

Upon Anastasia's first handjob:
"I want you to become well-acquainted, on first name terms if you will, with my favorite and most cherished part of my body. I'm very attached to this."
It's so big and growing.
Upon Anastasia's first blowjob:
He's my very own Christian Grey-flavored popsicle.
Upon Anastasia's first exposure to the vast and complex world of technology:
I have an e-mail address?
*confused pout*

Upon Anastasia's graduation:
The ceremony takes another hour to conclude. It's interminable.
(2400 on the SAT's for you, EL!)

Anastasia trying to figure Christian out:
I'm so confused.
He's such a mystery.
He's so cryptic.
He's so wealthy.
Anastasia having sex:
It's so sexual.
I'm so aroused.
I'm so turned on.
He's so good at sex.
Come to think of it, making fun of this book was my favorite thing about it.


I have a manic love-hate relationship with this book and am awarding it a reluctant 6 hearts because Christian Grey, while unrealistic and overstated, is strangely hypnotic. I didn't like this book for the characters or BDSM or the romance, or even the sex; only for the story. I can't recommend this, especially if you're new to erotica; this is not the kind of book you want your first experience to be. I don't recommend this to you even if you read a lot of erotica, either, because you probably won't be able to finish it. So I guess I don't recommend it to anyone. It was pretty entertaining (more out of laughs, than anything) and is a far-fetched fantasy that raises the question of who really has the power in D/s, in which readers will gladly indulge. I'll even be reviewing the next two books because I have to, but as this first book in the series isn't particularly well executed, and often very frustrating, I suggest you spend your time and money elsewhere Americanflag

6 hearts: Satisfying for a first read, but I'm not going back (x)