Oddly enough, the first time I heard about Fifty Shades of Grey was in a tweet from Percy Jackson author Rick Riordan on March 3. Thinking it was some new young adult book, I investigated. The book, dabbling heavily in BDSM (bondage & discipline and sadism & masochism), by E. L. James was anything but. Deemed “mommy porn” by some and “anti-feminist” by others, it was obvious I wasn’t the target audience. But then I began to hear friends and co-workers—who aren’t usually Harlequinites—talking about it. The New York Times wrote about it. So when Entertainment Weekly featured it on its April 6th cover, I had to know: why was this book getting so much attention? Many other novels had focused on similar proclivities, what was so special about this book that it would cross over into mainstream success and even become a New York Times bestseller? After reading it, I still am perplexed. Fifty Shades of Grey is truly one of the worst books I have ever read.
The story—originally written by James as Twilight fan fiction—follows the burgeoning relationship between a college graduate, Ana (Anastasia) Steele, and a late 20s business mogul, Christian Grey. Ana, a virgin, quickly learns that to be in a relationship with the controlling Christian, she must accept his sexual predilections: namely that she be the submissive to his dominant. She signs a non-disclosure agreement, but struggles: She thinks she loves him and wants more. What follows are scenes where fingers, objects and things are inserted into other things, lots and lots and lots of orgasms, and a supposed college graduate who says things like “Holy Cow! I’m on Google!”
But here are the reasons everyone should avoid this book (in no particular order):
- Grey’s antagonist Anastasia Steele surpasses Twilight’s Bella Swan (aka Pretty Bird) as the more horribly named character.
- James’ excruciating overuse of the following words/phrases: “hitched his/her breath,” “inner goddess,” “my subconscious,” “medulla oblongata,” “biting my lip,” “cocks his/her head,” and “just-fucked hair.”
- Like Twilight’s Bella Swan, Ana is a boring, spineless pacifist. Except for being the object of a man’s desire, both are uninteresting.
- Truthfully, if I didn’t know that the book was a romance, I would have thought that Ana would eventually wake up plastic-wrapped to a table, Dexter-style. Like Dexter, Christian is cold, controlling, overly fond of modern décor and linen shirts, and constantly talks about his need to satiate his desires.
- James obviously needs to learn a bit more about fashion: constant jeans-wear (“I’m so glad I decided to wear my best jeans,” “I’m wearing my most flattering jeans.” “He changed his jeans. These are older, ripped, soft, and over-washed.”), Christian’s invariable outfit of white linen shirts and pants that always “hang from his hips,” and Ana doing her hair, “I slip a comb in to keep one side off my face.”
- In the course of a few days, Ana goes from a virgin to a sexually liberated woman, yet can only refer to it as down “there.”
- The most wonderfully bad, unintentionally hilarious line of the whole book: “I can tell from his accent that he’s British.”
- Supposedly, Ana is a college graduate but constantly seems flummoxed by technology: “I have an email address?” she asks herself when Christian gives her a new laptop, “What would you suggest I put into a search engine?” and “No, I’ll buy it when I get home—over the Internet.”
- Nothing says romance like a guy asking, “Are you bleeding? Do you have cramps?” Hot.
- This is an actual line in the book (taken from the trying-to-sound-authentic contract): “The remaining subclauses of this clause 15 are to be read subject to this proviso and to the fundamental matters agreed in clauses 2-5 above.” Oh, and “I can see Russia from my house.”
- When your main character consistently says “jeez” and “double crap,” I find it hard to believe she would say “profligate” in a sentence.
I’m still unclear as to why this book has become so popular. Again, I recognize that I am not the target audience. And perhaps, as my friends keeps telling me, I won’t truly understand the appeal until I have read all three books. But if a first book is poorly written, why should I spend the time and money on the others? Based on others’ feedback that have read or tried to read the book, I am not alone in my criticism. As one friend pointed out, this isn’t new subject matter. Instead of settling for something poorly written, why not pick up a Henry Miller?