EL James’ ‘50 Shades of Grey’ has been, as you are probably aware, the talk of not only book clubs, but lunches with ladies, office chat and casual conversation. It’s been heralded as the new ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover,’ 45 years hence. More than a little naughty, very accessible; this trilogy seems to have collected quite a following. The fastest selling fiction novel of the 21st Century? I had to try it!
Reading the book before me, a friend of mine advised me the first third of the book was ‘ultra boring’. She then reached the two-thirds point and said it was ‘pure filth’. It improves then! When she’d devoured the book to the last letter, she said claimed it was an excellent read.
Therefore, in search of a good structure, this is a review in thirds of the famous ’50 Shades of Grey’.
The first third of the book takes us to about the 170 page mark. So far, I’ve not warmed to any of the characters. Anastasia, the protagonist, is irritating the hell out of me. Yes, she’s innocent, and supposed to be a little ‘green’, but even someone still clinging onto their virginity wouldn’t have been so ill-informed as to the activities in some people’s sex lives. She’s how old, 21? And how many times does she say ‘crap’ in each chapter? I feel this is dialogue characterisation stretched a little too far. Sure, that’s what she says, and I don’t mind, but she says it probably more times than is necessary. Mix it up a little!
I don’t like the name Christian; it doesn’t seem to suit the lover Anastasia falls for. I wonder why the author chose (carefully, I hope) this name in particular. It seems a middle-high class name, but did she mean it to have a religious connotation to it? He’s a less irritating character than Anastasia, perhaps because I am too busy drooling, but I question the author’s choice of name. With Mr ‘Grey’, she hit the nail on the head. Strong, uncomplicated, plain, disguising deeper shades. Adding the first name of ‘Christian’ ruined it for me.
Added to this, the writer doesn’t seem to have much creativity in terms of explaining how the dialogue is being delivered. Anastasia whispers or murmurs everything. In reality, how much whispering does anyone do? I found this a little unrealistic. But then, I’ve not personally been in her position… Maybe whispers are completely necessary in such situations, and no substitute would be acceptable? On some pages all she does is whisper and murmur, when there seems little call for quiet. However, when the main character isn’t whispering or murmuring, she’s snapping irritably. Apparently Anastasia uses the word ‘holy’ every 3.5 pages. My original view of the writing lacking something stands.
One part of the first third of the story I did enjoy was the scene in which Anastasia gets wrecked. Her explanation of how she feels is exactly how I have felt in the past, albeit perhaps not puking into azaleas specifically. She says “this is just too appalling for words” – a line in which, had I been more eloquent and able to pull myself together to voice my thoughts, I would have said at times myself. Ahh, student days… Anastasia makes some good points through her chunks and spurts (e.g. “vomiting profusely is exhausting”) and it makes for a truly empathetic scene. A real “I’ll never drink again” moment.
Inconsistencies in text is not one of my major bug bears. Perhaps it should be, but I very rarely spot anything in fiction I read. However, when Anastasia first reads the Non-Disclosure Agreement Christian presents her with, one of the stipulations is that she, as the Submissive (I’m not letting loose any spoilers I’m sure here!), is required to have seven hours sleep a night when they are not together. Less than 70 pages later, this has unexplainably been altered to eight hours. Anastasia should re-read that contract and makes sure she knows what she’s getting into. That extra hour of sleep could be the difference between waking at 7am or 6am – inconsistent writing, and something the Submissive should see as worth negotiating on. A lesson in reading contracts carefully before signing perhaps, but I feel the gravity of the lovers’ contract and the importance to the story means that the author should have gone over the details of the agreement with as much care as Anastasia should have.
Finally, and this is just a side note, but I’d be interested to hear the answer. This is an American print book, so all the words are Americanised. While we’re on the subject of Mr Grey, can someone explain to me why the colour grey in the USA is ‘gray’, yet Mr Grey is with an ‘e’? This must have presented some heavy editing issues in proofing the text with an American English spellchecker.
I’m now two-thirds of the way through ’50 Shades of Grey’. This is the extra juicy part, according to my friend. And yes, it’s definitely juicy. I don’t need to tell you, you’ve heard the rumours, hype and snippets, but it’s definitely a saucy read. Not exactly a book I’d recommend to my Gran, but I am surprised at how much I am starting to enjoy it.
Yes, there’s still very little plot to speak of, and the characters haven’t got any more interesting, but maybe a little more erotic fiction in my life wouldn’t be a good thing! And hey, it is porn, essentially. Perhaps the author wasn’t after the Orange literary prize with this volume. How often is porn aimed at men criticised as being poorly written/directed/acted?
It’s easy to tell porn from erotic literature. Porn shows the eyes on the front cover. Literature doesn’t. This also makes it much more appropriate to read at your desk during lunch.
There have been glimmers of lightening grey hope since the book has progressed. I like the private joke which Christian and Anastasia share when using ‘laters baby’ as a good bye greeting. This is a good example of a phrase akin to private language and jokes between two lovers. I warmed to this sweet phrase which shows the lighter, more playful side of the darkly dreaming (and acting) Christian.
Also, the whispering continues. Even the waitress at the IHOP is at it!
Page 430 was a step too far though. Four words so you can decide to skip it if you so wish: Tampon. Her. Removes. Christian. That’s nasty.
I wonder how much experience EL James has in this department, and how much she learned while researching this novel. Or perhaps she’s just living out a few fantasies to get her through a particularly boring marriage?
'Shading' image courtesy of Fountain Pen Network.
I’m finished. The most famous modern porno novel aimed at frustrated housewives is in my official Reading Record on Goodreads.
I’m finding myself defending 50 Shades more and more. Who amongst you hasn’t fantasised about being whisked away in a private jet by a millionaire at some point? And what’s wrong with a little ‘posh porn’? As Jolene Beauchamp suggests, it’s what women want nowadays. It’s easy to tell porn from erotic literature. Porn shows the eyes on the front cover. Literature doesn’t. This also makes it much more appropriate to read at your desk during lunch, perfect for working women who want some office escapism.
Erotic fiction has slowly been working its way onto a large platform in the literary mainstream in the last few years and has become a much more commercially viable product for publishers. The secret to its revival? Kindles, I believe. Erotic fiction has always been a little clandestine and having no book cover on view to everyone you sit next to on the train is of massive benefit to those who enjoy a bit of naughtiness on the morning commute.
My friend was, it seems, quite correct. The more I suspended reality and left my writer hat in the other room, I had to finish this book, whether it was worth reading or not. Call this enjoyment, or commitment, I finished it. But who am I to judge? Sit back and enjoy, suspend reality and silence your inner critique. You might just find a new genre you enjoy. I just don’t think I’ll be first in line to watch the film.
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