Reviewed by Amanda Keats
Fifty Shades of Grey is not a book; it's a phenomenon. The erotica novel (and its two sequels) started out as Twilight fan fiction and has since gone on to take over the world – breaking records and attracting media attention across the globe. In what seemed only a matter of weeks, it had rocketed to the top of the charts and women were starting not to shy away from it – reading the books on the tube without embarrassment. Gone were the days where this was a secret pleasure for readers, kept safely hidden on their Kindles. With the launch of the paperback edition, readers were openly enjoying the books and didn't care who knew it. The question is … why?
Fifty Shades of Grey sees university graduate Anastasia Steele meet the insanely wealthy and elusive Christian Grey, only to be opened up to a world of S&M that her naïve self had never even come close to experiencing. Fifty Shades of Grey is made to be silly, escapist pulp fiction. If you can suspend disbelief long enough, you might enjoy it. However, this is not just a book of sex scenes and a fun romp; instead it looks at the development of Ana and Christian's relationship as Ana gets to see behind the metaphorical curtain and into Christian's 'Red Room of Pain'. At first, he claims he will not touch her until the relevant paperwork has been signed but Ana is too intriguing and Christian soon finds himself breaking even his own rules. Upon discovering that Ana is, in fact, a virgin, he takes it upon himself to educate her in the basics, having 'Vanilla sex' and claiming all her orgasms as his own.
Christian Grey is a fascinating, dark and incredibly disturbed character. He has clearly been traumatised by a childhood he refuses to discuss and needs the control of being a dominant to find pleasure. He has an everyday façade that the outside world sees but very few get to see the real him – a lure that young Ana cannot refuse. Ana, on the other hand is naïve and inexperienced, happy to be led by Christian but nervous of where the path may lead. While Christian remains intriguing throughout, though, Ana does not. What starts as adorable and awkward soon becomes insufferable and tedious. Whilst the overthinking female is hardly a new and original concept – we've all had our moments, I'm sure – it's just no fun getting out of your own worrying, overthinking head and jumping straight into another one – especially when Ana is such an infuriating character.
Twilight fans will see the Edward/Bella similarities the further into the book they get, even down to the mother who can read Ana like a book and lives far away. The dominant, potentially dangerous Christian is very reminiscent of Edward, fearing he will hurt Ana but desperate to try regardless. Ana gives the desperately-in-love Bella a run for her money in the inner monologue stakes. She never seems to see what Christian sees in her and after a while (OK not that long a while!) you just want her to stop complaining and take a compliment where it's given.
There are so many red flags that will no doubt fly up for many readers as moments where she should have turned and run. His stalker tendencies for one, his constant dominating attitude, his refusal to allow Ana to touch him, his terrifying intensity... and, well, the Red Room of Pain. But our Ana is made of sterner stuff than that supposedly and her infatuation with Christian allows her to brush aside all these attributes for the sheer curiosity of what might lay behind them all.
E. L. James's inability to include actual anatomical terminology – instead choosing to refer to 'his length' and down 'there' – only adds to the sheer ridiculousness of the book. The way she describes orgasms is positively comical.
Overall, Fifty Shades of Grey is a silly, totally ridiculous piece of writing but as many readers already knew this before beginning their S&M adventure with Ana and Christian, this should come as no surprise. Where it really falls down is with its ending. Throughout the book, bad grammar, odd euphemisms and the sheer shock value of the sex scenes make for an entertaining read, simply because there's a certain degree of charm in its poor quality and the fact that it is so far-fetched makes it pure escapism. However, the ending read like the author was heading in one direction and then realised she could get two more books out of it. The sudden shift is so out of character, it comes off as jarring and frustrating, not intriguing. Clearly, this shift has paid off well for her; it just doesn't work well for the reader.
If you are a fan of erotica, there is much better reading material out there for you (see our Bared to You review) and I certainly wouldn't recommend this. The only real reason to read this book is to join in the debate. After all, if a book gets people reading and talking about books, it can't be all bad, can it?
E L JAMES'S WEBSITE