Revisiting Fifty Shades of Grey

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but a film adaptation of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey came out last week. The lead up to its release has been a trip back to 2011, with the movie dominating (lulz) the headlines. As a result, I’ve accidentally found myself someplace I never thought I’d revisit – reading Fifty Shades of Grey.  I’m pathetically susceptible to advertising and I have a very low threshold for resistance and self-control, so it was really only a matter of time before I found myself back here.

I originally bought the first book during a trip to Waterstones with the intention of buying something else entirely. I’d walked past the huge piles of the trilogy, ignored the posters and instead focussed on buying the book I’d come in for. I made my way over to the till and it was there I succumbed, thanks to the “£2.99 with any purchase” offer.

Now, I can’t even remember what I’d gone in for in the first place, but for some reason my memory has held on to the purchase of this book.

Fifty Shades has somehow become saturated in our culture, and in a pretty unique way. Unlike Twilight, from which this is “inspired” (ahem…), a wave of erotica hasn’t hit our bookshelves. Sure, publishers have attempted to make sexual reimagining’s a thing, but it never really took off.

Sylvia Day featured on the Amazon Bestseller list behind James for a while, but that’s nothing compared to the onslaught of vampire novels that were published (and re-published with Twilight-esque covers) as a result of Bella Swan, Edward Cullen and co. Only Harry Potter has had a similar impact on our culture, with the novel itself, rather than the genre, grabbing our imagination and money and refusing to let go.

In honour of the film release – and in an attempt to justify having re-read the first book again – I’m taking a look back at Fifty Shades of Grey, attempting to decipher what it is that made this book so damn popular.

What’s the story?

Anastasia Steele, an almost-graduate, is covering for her sick friend Kate by conducting an interview for the college’s student magazine. The interviewee is none other than millionaire (or is it billionaire?) Christian Grey, entrepreneur and CEO of Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

There’s an immediate spark between the two, but something’s seems strange to Ana. It turns out Grey is a Dom, and he wants Ana to be his sub. As the narrative unravels, Ana discovers her sexuality at the hands of this powerful, domineering and controlling man, and the relationship takes a direction neither could have expected.

The good

Fifty Shades is pure trash, and I love trash. I find this novel oddly addictive, consuming my thoughts long after I’ve put it down to do something else. The story starts strongly, with the first few chapters a particular highlight and pleasure to read. They’re not perfect, but the structure is tight and the story intriguing.

It’s a simple concept and, at first, it’s executed well. I truly enjoyed getting into the book both times I’ve read it, and as a light read to whisk your mind away from daily concerns, it works phenomenally well.

The bad

There’s no getting around the fact that this is a poorly written and edited book. I can’t understand how a book of this popularity went to press with such a large number of mistakes throughout the entirety of the text.

The writing feels forced and is infuriatingly repetitive. It feels as though James wrote a phrase, thought “oh, that’s good”, and just did not stop using it. The repetition features to such an extent that it’s distracting from the narrative itself, pulling the reader away from the story and out of the fantasy. Ana’s language choices are horribly old fashioned, crying “holy crap!” so often you’re left feeling as though you’re reading the erotic fantasies of Robin, with Batman as his Dominant.

Of course, there’s plenty of other bad stuff beyond the writing style. The franchise has been accused of advocating domestic abuse, and the mental manipulation of our heroine is pretty unsettling. I can’t understand how anyone can read Christian Grey as being an ideal romantic hero; he’s horribly manipulative and controlling, causing Ana to be on edge, needlessly apologetic and fearful for her safety. This is not BDSM – it’s abuse, and it’s difficult to ignore, especially the manner in which these elements are written off as “romantic”.

Oh, and the sex scenes are, frankly, boring. The descriptions are dull, the scenes themselves repetitive, and the BDSM for which this book is so famous, is almost non-existent. Honestly, if you’re looking for an insight into kink, you’re not going to find it here.

Why’s it so popular?

Based purely on its own merits, this book is no better than any other bog standard romance, and in many ways it’s much worse, thanks to the treatment of the heroine and complete lack of humour. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of it all is the fantasy of an attainable life of riches. The sex is average and the romance unnerving, leaving the wealth as the sole appealing factor to the fantasy.

The book would be completely unknown was it not for the media that constantly surrounds it, showing exactly how powerful word-of-mouth and viral marketing can be. Strangely, I don’t actually know that many people who have actually read it, though.

Recommended for…

If you haven’t read it and you finally want to know what all the fuss is about, I’d say go for it. Likewise, if you fancy trying out some erotica, but don’t want to risk feeling overwhelmed by too much sexiness, this could be a good place to start.

As I mentioned earlier, this book is pure trash, so if you want some easy escapism with a side order of unconventional romance, you could do a lot worse than Fifty Shades of Grey.

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