Fifty Shades of Grey – or The Moment Your Soul Died?

NO MATTER where you go, you will see someone reading it. It’s taken the New York Bestseller List by storm, old ladies read it at bus stops, and it has provided a middle-aged housewife with enough money to send her kids to college. You knew it was coming. 50 Shades of Grey. Luckily, I’ve read it so you don’t have to.

I’m going to put this simply. This is not a well-written book. However, I say that as someone who studies English as a degree. I’m biased. It is, however, entertaining enough to kill four or so hours and you may find yourself rooting for Ana to find her inner sex Goddess, and by the end of it, you may even care about how this relationship pans out. If, instead, you’re reading it from a critical point of view, you may as well buy a hamster, let it rip up a thesaurus, and read the shreds instead- it’s just that bad.

The reason it is so successful simply comes down to the fact that it’s erotica for the middle aged. They read it and feel sexy. At the same time, it’s very safe because there’s something about the book that, once you notice it, you can’t ignore it. 50 Shades has no explicit sex whatsoever. Sure, it has sex scenes (by the gallon full) but they’re not sexy at all. It’s like reading a “How to have sex” leaflet: insert penis here, expect orgasm. There’s nothing sexy about that! You can actually make a drinking game out of how many times she repeats “foil packet”, and “kisses me….there.” It’s like being back in Primary school, when sex was still taboo and naughty and said in whispers. For a book that heavily relies on sex as a selling point, James doesn’t have a grasp on how to create good erotica.

The premise is simple enough; lonely, virginal Ana Steele wins the heart of the enigmatic multi-millionaire Christian Gray after falling through his office door (as every romantic protagonist does) and he teaches her the ways of the masochist. Except author (and we use that term lightly) E.L. James clearly hasn’t done her homework on masochism. Sparing you the sordid details of BDSM, I’ll just tell you this is not an accurate depiction of sadomasochism. Then again, neither is it a guidebook on the subject. Clearly these are the unfulfilled dreams of a housewife with time to spare in between getting her kids up for school and dropping them off at swimming lessons. James wants to be Ana. She wants to be the unknown beauty, still in her twenties and sexually alluring. And it shows- Ana is the typical Mary-Sue prototype. Everyone wants to date her, she’s successful at her job, and she’s modestly beautiful. Nothing goes wrong for this girl! Who wouldn’t want to be her?

[pullshow]Plot wise… well, there is no plot. It can be condensed down into the typical “boy meets girl” scenario but with added spanking. Eventually you tire of the gratuitous sex scenes and skip through them, trying to find some essence of a plot that isn’t about Ana trying out anal beads. [pullthis]Eventually you tire of the gratuitous sex scenes and skip through them, trying to find some essence of a plot that isn’t about Ana trying out anal beads. [/pullthis]I wish I was joking. There’s a side story revolving around Ana’s flatmate Katherine (who is much more interesting, why wasn’t the book about her?) getting with Christian’s brother Elliot (also the more interesting character) which could have been expanded upon, but that’s quickly mentioned and discarded so we can learn more about Ana’s sexual tolerances and boat sex.

Don’t read this and expect your mind to be blown. These characters are shallow, underdeveloped, and two-dimensional. Christian Grey is not someone to desire; he doesn’t have the “50 Shades” of character James wants you to believe he has. Having a Red Room of Pain does not make someone interesting, nor does their disdain at the thought of being touched.  Ana herself is completely self-deprecating and spends a lot of her time wishing she was more confident, or prettier, or just overall a better person. You know exactly how this book will pan out from the first chapter; there are no surprises, no plot twists to engross you. It’s simple, and that’s apparently what sells these days. There’s a chance you’ll like it if you need an improvement on your sex life, or if you’re in your mid-thirties. Read it to see what all the fuss is about, but don’t say you weren’t warned of the impending disappointment.