Fifty Shades of Grey is a book that has received a lot of attention lately, both positive and negative. I am not an avid reader of this type of fiction. If I were not married, I would have never even considered watching the Twilight movies or any other series of movies where shirtless werewolves and pale anorexic vampires battle it out for the love of an apparently irresistible and completely helpless teenage girl. But since the book is reportedly being made into a movie; and since it is causing such a stir; and since I’m stuck in Afghanistan with sh$# else to do, I’m going to read the book and give my perspective on the story. Here we go:
My Reading of Fifty Shades of Grey:
Or, The Diary of a Mad, White Man
First, let’s summarize the story. This is the story of Anastasia Steele, a sweet innocent college girl who meets and falls in love with Christian Grey, a young “freaking hot” business mogul. She first makes contact with Christian while conducting an interview as a favor for her friend, who is the editor of the college newspaper, but is sick and apparently cannot ask anyone else on the newspaper staff to fill in. The first time she lays eyes on Christian, she is falling face first into his office. A deep relationship forms where Anna stammers and turns red while Christian stares at her and imagines all of the ways he can penetrate her sexually. He’s a controlling weirdo, but Anna decides to give up her virginity on their first real date. And boy does she! A series of sexual acts follow. A sex-capade rivaled in duration and erotic repulsiveness only by an hour-long documentary of Wildebeests mating. Oh, and I forgot to mention Christian’s sex room, which is a room filled with various sex/torture devices. This apparently does not faze virginal Anna. She agonizes over a sex contract proposed to her by Christian for chapter after chapter. Bad dialogue ensues…more disgusting sex acts…a poor attempt at character development…and then, thankfully, it is over.
You might be thinking to yourself, “Hey, he skipped over all of the important plot points.” Not true. There are no important plot points. The story is just a shell into which the author injects sex scenes. It is porn. And if you asked me to describe the last porn I saw, I wouldn’t try to convince you that it’s a movie about the meaning of life as seen through the eyes of a group of sorority girls and a lucky pizza delivery guy. It is just a thinly veiled excuse to break into an orgy. If porn is what you’re looking for, then look no further; although, I think the sex scenes are more disturbing than erotic (more on that later). If you still think that this is a legitimate piece of literature, then you and I disagree. Here is why:
Bad Story Telling:
For a story to work, there must be tension and a natural arc to the events. I guess that the tension of the story is supposed to lie in Anna’s indecision about what to do about Christian and his sex contract. What is missing here is a motivating factor. Anna just met Christian. Christian’s only positive qualities are that he is good looking, apparently has a magical penis, and is rich. I know that some women would gladly push down their Grandma to get to a rich guy with a magical penis but it’s not a very compelling source of tension in a story. If you like him, go for it. If not, it’s not like you’ve known the guy for very long, so walk away. Anna is a grown woman, so the moral dilemma of the contract and the social taboos of the relationship are not very interesting as a driving force behind the story. Maybe if Anna were younger and being corrupted by an older man, but she is 22; that's hardly helpless and corruptible.
I’ve seen other stories like this. Take the movie Pretty Woman. Richard Gere’s character is a rich jerk who picks up a hooker with a heart of gold. He has the ability to take her out of her dark and dangerous life. She can teach a man, who seems to be unable to feel emotions, to love. Will it work out? The audience at least half cares because the hooker is likeable, and the rich jerk becomes noble in the end, no doubt changed forever by their relationship. The characters are not static and their motivations are reasonable.
The difference in this story is that Christian has nothing significant to offer Anna that I could care about. Yes, Christian is wealthy, but Anna is not poor. She is actually better off than most 22-year-old college grads. She has a car, interviews lined up, and an apartment that is being paid for by a friend’s parents. It's not like Anna has fallen into a life of prostitution and Christian is her only way out. James references Tess of the D’Urbervilles several times in the book. I suspect this is what she tried to pattern her story after. In Tess, Alec, the unfeeling villain of the story, pursues Tess relentlessly and eventually rapes her while riding through the woods in a carriage. Tess is innocent and inexperienced like Anna. Alec relentlessly pursues Tess, who wants nothing to do with him, but needs Alec to help her desperately poor family. There is the tension. Tess cannot walk away from Alec because her family is counting on his help. Anna faces no such decision. Her only dilemma is whether or not to enter into a slightly bizarre relationship with another consenting adult. And really, who cares if she does or doesn’t?
I always say that if you are going to make a bad movie, load it up with sex and nudity. James did that. That is the last ditch effort of a writer that knows that their work is crap. Or of someone who is writing a porn. What it is not is literature.
Reader's Tip: To stave off boredom while reading this book, I suggest playing a drinking game. Try drinking every time Anna blushes, flushes, or turns red.
Warning: Do not read more than 2 pages per session or you will surely die.
Poor Character Development
Let’s talk about Anna first and save Christian for later. Anna is supposed to be the heart of the story. The book is written from her point of view. The problem is that I feel as if I hardly know Anna. Virtually nothing is revealed about her past other than that she lived in Georgia and her parents are separated. These are hardly significant details. What the reader is left with is a surprisingly flat protagonist. I don’t care what happens to her because I don’t know her, so when she struggles with the decision whether to sign Christian’s contract, I am unmoved. It’s like watching a news story about a murder. You may feel sorry that someone has died, but unless you knew the victim personally, you don’t care that much.
James tries much harder to develop the character of Christian Grey. Unfortunately, the effort is obvious and the result is a mish-mash of clichés. Christian is Bruce Wayne in Batman. He lives alone in a high rise penthouse apartment in the middle of a major city, he is the super rich head of a company whose business is unclear, he has a personal servant who takes care of his personal details, he has every toy and piece of technology a man could need, he has relationship problems, he has a secret past…etc, etc, etc. All Grey is missing is the likeability factor and interesting back story.
This is a good time to talk about awkward dialogue, because Christian is at the center of most of it. Christian speaks like a character in a made-for-TV movie set in Victorian England (Or maybe like someone trying to mimic Tess of the D’Urbervilles?). And even set in that environment, the other characters would probably wonder who jammed that stick up his butt. He is irritatingly formal even with people who are supposed to be friends. Here is a passage that takes place in Anna’s apartment on the night of her graduation from college:
“If I may,” he says amused. He holds up a bottle of champagne as he walks in. “I thought we’d celebrate your graduation. Nothing beats a good Bollinger.”
“Interesting choice of words,” I comment dryly.
“Oh, I like your ready wit, Anastasia.” – Chapter 15
Forget about the fact that the quote isn’t very witty. It gives you a good idea of how Christian speaks most of the time. It has everything: he calls his girlfriend Anastasia (he often calls her Miss Steele), he is using overly formal language, and he is acting very coldly considering the fact that they are supposed to be celebrating. No one talks like this today. This goes on for the entire story. But then, James will hit us with inspired dialogue like this:
“Pinch the top and roll it down. You don’t want any air in the end of that sucker,” he pants. – Chapter 15
Suddenly Christian is using slang like he’s morphed into Mr. T. I pity the fool that leaves air in the tip of that condom. Or this:
“Oh, Anastasia, you taste mighty fine,” he breathes. “Shall I make you come?” – Chapter 18
Now Christian is Foghorn Leghorn. I am suddenly picturing him in a white suit like Colonel Sanders. This kind of inconsistency keeps readers from getting a feel for the characters and kills the flow of the story. How are women supposed to masturbate through dialogue like this?
This is what escapes me about the popularity of this book. Christian Grey is supposed to seduce the reader. Aside from the bad dialogue, Christian is a male bimbo. He is nothing more than the male equivalent of a hot blonde with fake boobs. Christian is a powerful man. He has lots of money and everyone seems to be afraid of him. Women like this the same way that men like fake boobs. It’s shallow and superficial and serves only to facilitate some fantasy rooted deep in the human brain. In reality, you wouldn’t want to know the fake-boobed blonde or Christian Grey any more than you would want to hang out with the Trix Rabbit. They are all flat and unrealistic characters. And to be honest, I am much more intrigued by the Trix Rabbit’s character. Why is he so obsessed with cereal? Don’t rabbits eat vegetables? Oh wait…who cares?
Words I don’t ever want to see in print again, thanks to this book: blaze, clambers, flushes, hitches, sex (referring to female naughty parts), etc.
I hear the ice clink against the glass, and he puts it down again and leans down and kisses me, pouring a delicious crisp, liquid into my mouth as he does. It’s white wine. It’s so unexpected, hot, though it’s chilled, and Christian’s lips are cool.
“More?” he whispers.
I nod. It tastes all the more divine because it’s been in his mouth. He leans down, and I drink another mouthful from his lips…oh my. –Chapter 12
This quote is disgusting. I know that sex is very subjective and I have witnessed friends doing body shots off of women they didn’t know in a bar, but this crosses a line. Anna is drinking wine out of Christian’s mouth like a baby bird. This is the translation of what I was thinking when I read this:
I hear the ice clink against the glass, and he puts it down. I hear a loud snorting sound as Christian hocks a giant luge and spits into the glass. He continues to spit and hock several more times, heightening my anticipation. Finally he takes a swig of the concoction and leans down to kiss me. My lips part as he pauses just above me. His body convulses and I hear a deep retching as he expels the liquid into my open mouth.
“More?” he whispers.
I nod. I mean, it can’t get any more gross than this…right?
– Me reading Chapter 12…just before I threw up in my mouth
If you enjoy people spitting in your mouth, then this is the book for you. I won’t even discuss the scene where Christian porks Anna while she is on her period. What can I say about that? Some of the sex scenes in this book didn’t cause me to say “Eww!” out loud, but most of those scenes were pretty generic and contained the normal characteristics of porn. Anna starts out a virgin. In her first sexual experience ever, she has multiple orgasms and then deep throats Christian during her first-ever blowjob. James should just write about Unicorns f#$king. It would be more believable.
There are other problems with this book. James’ writing style is tedious and wordy. She uses the same sentence structure and words over and over. The book could have been half its current length and still told the same story. There is just too much to comment on. So to sum up my feelings: I don’t get it. I don’t understand how this book has sold so well and has become accepted in mainstream society. Isn’t there better lady-porn than this? If someone tried to make a porno version of Hamlet, guys would never buy it. So, take my word for it, ladies. You don’t have to read through a bunch of crap just to get a few sex scenes. Just get porn that knows what it is and gets right to the sex. Everything else is a waste of time.
~These are the opinions of my husband and I do not necessarily share them. I do find them hilarious, however, because I hate this book with the burning passion of a thousand suns. GIFs have been chosen and added by me.~