Well, I’ve done it. Done what I said I wasn’t going to do when the madness started this summer. I’ve officially read Fifty Shades of Grey. Why? I hear some people cry. Well, it’s for two reasons. Firstly, so I can now discuss the book knowing I’ve read it and have a complete opinion about it. Secondly, from a writer’s point of view I wanted to know why this book was so popular, why people were saying what they were about and if I could gain anything from writing in a same vein. As a writer, it’s important to read the ‘now’ popular books because the publishing industry often likes to publish similar styled books on the back of one that is currently very popular. Once they know that this is the kind of thing people are reading, they are eager to look for more. There’s nothing wrong with that and I should point out that I am happy for E L James. She has managed to do what published and unpublished writers can only dream of and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, and before people start thinking this is going to be a ‘good review’ of the book, I should point out that it’s not going to be. My inner reader and writer have a massive disliking for this novel and I want explain why I’ve so many issues with this book. (This may turn into a massive rant, but it shall be a very backed up rant!) I plan to try to keep my language suitable for all readers, but you should know right now that it’s not going to be possible with this genre of book. However, I shall try and use different words that mean the same thing, which Blogger.com and readers shouldn’t take offence to. Also the FS memes was an idea suggested by a friend and though I wanted this post to be serious the book makes it impossible to do so. Also some of the memes express my views really well.
The origins of books are often questioned. Authors sometimes say they have no clear idea where their books came from, others say they seeking answers to a certain question, exploring the possibilities of a person or event. FS came from Fan Fiction…Twilight Fan Fiction….Now I’ve nothing against FF, I’ve never felt the need to write any myself, though I’ve often wondered about characters in that frame of mind, but who hasn’t done that in some form? As far as I know, none of the characters I’ve written in my novels are based on characters from another piece of work. That’s not how my mind thinks when I write. Need I get into the whole Twilight thing?? I don’t want to, but I just know it’s going to have to pop up again. So, I best get this out of the way too. I hate Twilight with a passion. Good for Meyers for written a very popular book, but once again that’s where it ends. I feel like she has almost shamed vampires by what she’s written. Moving on!
James then rewrote FS after people started saying it was good and changed a few things….mmmmm..I’ve never read the original FF and you can’t actually get a hold of it anymore because she took it all down. Did she do this in a bid to get more books to sell or because she was worried about being found out that all she had done was changed the names from that of the Twilight cast? There’s a lot of stuff going around about all this background stuff and truthfully, I don’t care. The book was discovered and published…though I’m sure it only got published because of the increasing popularity on the Internet because honestly, I don’t know how it managed it….
All through summer, the only thing I heard was people talking about this book. How good it was and how amazing the characters where, how it made them feel ‘free’ and more passionate. Well, good points to a book that makes people feel that way…but even before I’d read anything about it or picked it up, I knew it was terrible and just a passing fashion. I mean how is it possible for a book based on Twilight, from a first time writer, to take over the world? Well…having now read it I can explain my theory. Before I even get into reviewing it, I shall admit to a shocking thing; within the first few chapters I became addicted. Not because of how it was written, the plot, the characters, my connections to it or because it stirred some deep feelings inside of me, I like the rest of the world had to discover what made Christian Grey tick. And now I know the answer to that, I can’t believe I got so into this book!
First off this book smacks of Twilight so much. The main characters; Christian and Ana read just like Edward and Bella did. They are one dimensional, have a limited vocabulary, never fully develop and follow the stereotypes of innocent and evil characters. You’d think that James would have made some attempt to change her characters and allow then to develop when she rewrote it….but nope. The plot is also the same! Girl meets boy, but she can’t have boy and believes he doesn’t like her. She tries to convince him that he should like her and it turns out that he has liked her all along. Then girl can’t cope with his demands and ends it. There are probably a lot of books that also have this plot story at their core and they are probably a lot better! Okay, one thing at a time.
So, Ana. She’s 21, a new grad from college, wants to go into the publishing industry, she has a love of British Literature and Twinges English Breakfast Tea. Believable so far right? Okay….she’s also a virgin, never had thoughts about sex, never touched herself, never fancied a boy real or fictional. Still believable? Yeah, maybe in the 1800’s! But this is the twenty-first century and I don’t believe a single word of this! Maybe, if this could have been explained like with her being religious and it being within her faith to behaviour like that or if there had been some trauma relating to this. But no. We are made to believe that Ana is a complete innocent who has no interested in boys. We are also made to believe that she is like Tess from Tess of the d’urbervilles.I’ve not read it, but I can see some similarities because they are both young, innocent women who get used by ‘evil’ men. She also claims to be clumsy -remind you of anyone?-but that hardly comes across in the second half of the book. Why are all innocent girls made out to be clumsy? I don’t know, but she really didn’t need to be and it just didn’t work for the heroine she is trying to be. Ana then falls for the guy of her dreams completely out of the blue and I’ll get on to him in a few. But she’s never experience wanting or love before, so how does she know what this is? And why has it taken her so long? Then we get the whole cliché of her wanting something she can’t have and if she’d just stayed away like her instincts, friends, family, even the man himself had said, this book would have been so much shorter and better for it too! But no, she like any innocent girl has to go and get mixed up with a guy who’s past is dark and leads to his ‘odd behaviour.’ And she puts up with his demands, she agrees to things when she’s clearly not ready, she wants to impress and change him because she’s so in love with him! Then after everything, she is pushed too far and finally sees sense! Problem is she’s too involved and we know that in book two she’s going to go right back to him!
Christian is 27, multi-millionaire, owner of his own company, has everything a person could dream of, loves classic music, playing the piano and gliding. Somewhat believable….not believable is his dark and mysterious background, which is the real draw of the novel, as I pointed out before. He was adopted into what he says is a ‘perfect family’. He’s never seen with a woman, though he attracts them all the time. (He surrounds himself with blonds too.) He’s made out to be a Greek God and untouchable, like he’s the most sexist thing to walk the planet….seriously??? I felt nothing, no attraction, no sympathy, no connection. (Beside from my deep feelings of rage at badly written characters). We learn he was abused until he was four years old, though how much he remembers about this and his birth mother I would really question. When he was fifteen he got seduced by an older married woman, a ‘Mrs Robinson stereotype’ as it comes across. This is where he turned ‘bad’, though he says something along the lines of it saved him, because he got involved in BDSM. I’m going to get to that in a minute. He comes across as being very controlling, all ways wanting his own way, bipolar with his mood swings, aggressive and very set in his ways. A man to be avoided! What really, really bugs me about him though is that fact that he really steals Ana’s innocence. (If you suspend your disbelieve about that and god, you’ll have to do that for other things as well!) All the love/sex scenes they have echo rape and violence to women, he introduces her to BDSM when she clearly has no interest and is scared of it. He doesn’t take the time to get to know her personally, preferring to stalk her and he struggles to communicate. We know he’s not going to change, no matter what he says!
As for the other characters in the book? I could go on about them too, but we’ve a lot to get through, so briefly. They are all just as badly written! I couldn’t connect with any of them and they were all so boring. I had a major problem with all the single males who Ana knows because they all fancy her. Why do writers think it’s okay to do this? So Ana might believe she’s not pretty, but why have a bunch of guys we don’t carry about pop up throughout and try to date her? We know she wasn’t interested in the past, so why do they carry on when they must know this too? It’s really not needed. The whole thing of them being there to make Christian jealous? What’s the point?! He all ways gets what he wants and he’s so not going to let any of them stand in his way! Ana’s attitude towards her best friend and housemate is annoying. Understandable though because I got annoyed with Kate too! She’s perfect, someone Ana wants to be like, but she has more sense. Or does she? She stays away from Christian only to get with his adopted brother! We don’t know anything about this guy, why should we be bothered about their relationship? And why does Ana act like they’re having the perfect relationship when she can’t possibly know? Parents bug me in this book too. I giggled at the advice Ana’s mother give her because it sounded so unrealistic and didn’t suit the mum’s character. We learn a lot about Ana’s parents and hardly anything about Christian’s. These characters are just there being useless and trying to make other characters seem real. Oddly, I did manage to connect with one character and that’s Tyler. I really felt for him having to be at the call of a spoilt, control freak. Clearly, he gets paid well and has dedicated his life to his job. I was interested about how he was always in the background and could pop up without anyone noticing….Is he a ninja? What he says also interests me, it’s clear he likes Christian a lot and worries about him. He’s happy that Ana is on the scene and maybe he hopes Christian will settle down and become more calm? I’d like to find out more about his character.
Now, I’ve already pointed out the core plot of the novel, but I’ll look at it in more detail now. It starts off with Ana having to go and interview Christian for the student magazine, because Kate has the flu. It’s not really love at first sight, but they both feel an odd attraction to each other. Then the rest of the book is spent with them trying to have a relationship, whilst Ana gets Christian to talk about his past. And yeah, that’s about it…there’s no second or background plots and once you know Christian’s secrets, there’s no real reason to carry on reading. It’s written in a first person narrative, so we always have Ana’s point of view. Reasoning behind this? So, that female readers can connect with her and we can remain in the dark about the actions of the other characters. Maybe, if this book had been written in third person or we had a spilt narrative between Ana and Christian, it would have more depth than the cardboard it feels like. Ana’s voice bugs me; it’s too full of conflicting emotion, too full of her whining about things and repetitive statements. Also we get her thoughts all of the time! I can’t recall another first person narrative-there probably is one- where though technically we are in the character’s head all of the time, we get what the character is thinking in an italics. Why? To make her more expressive? To make her words stand out more and readers to take notice? To me it wasn’t needed and you could more or less pick it up from the actual narrative.
The pace of the plot is actually very fast and you do get into the novel quickly. Problem is it lacks a constant flow to the different scenes and jumps the linear time frame all the time. Granted we don’t need to know what the characters are doing word for word all the time, no story does that, but the writing is very jaggy in the movement. Generally, this doesn’t impact on the reading, but to me I like the words to flow probably. Major thing that also bugged me was how Ana keeps referring to her ‘sub- conscious ‘ and her ‘inner-Goddess’. Yeah…have you ever talked to your sub-conscious and actually heard it whisper things to you? Seriously? It’s called a sub-conscious for a reason! Because most of the time we’re not aware of it! Why does James make us believe that Ana has such a deep connection with her inner self and mind? To be honest it’s really not needed, we can see through the narrative and her thoughts what’s going on, why make this inner-Goddess character act like Jimmy Cricket? Ana doesn’t even follow it’s advice anyway. I guess her turning into a donkey and becoming trapped inside a whale would have been an interesting plot development!
This book falls into the romance/erotica genre and has been classed by most as ‘mommy porn.’ Everyone knows that this book contains a lot of detailed sex scenes, nearly all involving BDMS in some way. Once Ana and Christian get together, it never ends and the plot gets lost. I’m fine with these kinds of scenes in books. It’s a normal fact of life and it’s what people do. Also it can tell a lot about the characters and link to their backgrounds without the use of words. From my own experience and reading a lot of supernatural romance books, I know that writing these scenes can be a hard task. You want to convey to the reader what’s going on and what the characters’ feelings/thoughts are in a very short space. However, you can go into too much needless detail and leave nothing up to the readers’ imaginations in the search for finding the perfect way to describe the scene. That’s what I really feel about these scenes in FS. It feels unrealistic and clumsy, there’s no real passion between the characters and the description of the ‘after effects’ are blown out of proportion.
Now the BDMS. James says she did a lot of research, but has she ever experienced anything to do with this? I’ve read a few reviews which contain people who take a part in this views on the book. Even without having done this though, I feel these scenes were wrong. In a way she seems to have got the wrong idea about what BDMS is. She uses some unsafe techniques, e.g. The cable ties that Christian uses to tie Ana’s hands together. Really unsafe as it can cut off blood flow and also feel really unpleasant. And Christian’s playroom is extreme and packed with everything, making it seem unrealistic. And what is up with that contract and not being able to tell anyone? James is really pushing this. Ana should be able to talk to someone about things, having never experienced anything she could do with some actual advice instead of just the internet! And we all know how crazy things can get on there! It just seems that Christian throws her into the deep end of all of this and Ana goes along with it because she’s in love with him. I didn’t get that thrilled by any of this, maybe because it was badly written or unrealistic. James said that she didn’t want to show violence to women, but once again it feels like this is the case. She’s using BDMS to symbolise the relationship between Ana and Christian. He’s in complete control of her life, she can’t escape and he can do whatever he wants to her. For me though, the worse part of this is that James uses Christian’s dark past to explain why he got into BDMS. So, do only bad, traumatised, dark, mysterious men and innocent virgin girls practise this? No! These people are completely normal! They just enjoy a wider experience. I could go on with my unhappiness about this, but I’m not going too. Go to Wiki read about this stuff and then make up your own mind.
The audience of the book is married, (housewives) women who lack sex lives or feel bored and want to fantasise. That’s how it’s managed to spread so much, because it looks at women’s fantasies and appeals to them. It’s spread to other women of all ages and even some men. Actually I think that the Kindle has helped make it more available to people who’d not want to be seen in public reading it. I read the book on the bus a few times though and didn’t notice anyone glaring or trying to speak to me. Then again I’m not embarrassed by what I read. There really has become some stigma about being seen or admitting to have read this book now. Frankly, I don’t think it matters, there has been banned books before and there’ll be banned books in the future. People have a wide range of tastes and there’s nothing wrong with that.
And now we finally get on to the language used within the book. (Prepare for another full blown rant.) This book is so badly written it’s laughable. Just try reading aloud a page or so to yourself or someone else if you like and listen to how the language sounds. Yeah, it might use an adult vocabulary, with a handful of random words that a few people wouldn’t know, a ton of swear words, technical terms and odd phrases. But it’s so repetitive and to prove this I’ll paste and copy some of a table that someone actually spent time doing and posted online;
“Oh My” – 79
“Jeez” – 82
“Murmur” – 68
“Murmurs” – 139
“Whisper” – 96
“Whispers” – 103
“Fifty” – 16
“Lip” – 71
“Subconscious” – 82
Now granted that all books repeat words throughout and most authors go and find similar or same meaning words to use. But that doesn’t happen here and what we’ve got is a very fix vocabulary. Okay so using the same words might make the reading faster, but it gets so boring. I got annoyed that Ana was always biting her lip and that they were constantly talking in low voices to each other. Also Ana’s favourite phrase is ‘Oh my.’ What is she? Straight out of the 1800’s again? The fact that she never seems to have anything else to say is tiresome.
Speaking of which the dialogue is so bad. I know that writing dialogue is mega hard. Making speech sound real in written words is near impossible. You can’t capture the true meanings, the feeling behind the words and what’s left unsaid, which actually happens in real speech. It’s possible to have good and close to speech dialogue though. Epic fail for this book! It’s so unrealistic and it’s trying too hard. I’ve no sense of the characters’ voices which I should get from their words. It feels bogged down with words that could easily be cut and its mega repetitive. Slightly good thing? The use of the emails and texts. At first I liked how James used this as she made the formatting of their communication very clear. But god, she dragged it out so much and over used it that I just become so bored and wanted to put Ana and Christian in an empty room and make them have a deep talk. I get that they can only truly expresses themselves though technology. It’s the way the world is now, people find it a lot easier to say things to people and connect. Fair enough, but a relationship can’t carry on with people only expressing themselves in this way!
About half way through the book, Ana suddenly comes up with this nickname for Christian ‘Fifty Shades.’ From then on this is used and parried up with different things. When I first read it I laughed and thought that James had suddenly came across the novel’s title and then wanted try out a few different ways of putting it. Highly possible, but it also has connects with Christian’s character being mysterious and Ana unable to fully classify him. It also makes the BDSM a ‘grey area’ though and I really disapproved of this.
My major issue with the language is that it has a lot of British idioms. Why when this book is set in the USA and has no connect with Britain, beside from Ana’s love of British Lit and tea? Well, James is British and as far as I know has never been to America. She used Google Earth to get the settings and backdrops. Okay, not that much of a problem as lots of writers do this and set their books or have scenes which involve different places where they might not have been. But not being able to describe things to the reader probably makes the settings unreal. At times I questioned if the setting was Britain or America and a reader should never have to do that. It also reflected on the characters as well and their dialogue. I don’t understand why she just couldn’t have set the book in Britain. Did she think she wouldn’t get as much of an audience? Did she believe that the American setting fitted more perfectly for her characters’ backgrounds, or was she really trying to write Twilight? Frankly, if this book had been set in Britain and honestly, I can see no real reason why it wouldn’t work, I think it might have been a bit better. At least we’d have lost of the confusing idioms!
There are two other books; FS Darker and FS Freed and I shall not be reading them. I’ve no urge to sit through another 500 odd pages (twice!) of this. Oh and they are making it a movie! Three movies actually! Please, I want to be spared from this…Twilight was bad enough! But I do sort of want to know how they are going to do it….make an X-rated version straight to DVD and have a 16+ version at the cinema? If I ever see it I’m going to laugh all the way through it which is what I did with the book.
With that I’m going to wrap things up. At the end of the day I really didn’t like this novel, it didn’t work on a whole number of levels, what with the writing being so bad and the characters being so unrealistic. The idea is a good one though, but I wish it had taken a different view or been constructed with more knowledge. I’m happy that James got somewhere and I’ve nothing against her, it just bugs me how such trash can be published and become popular! I know everyone’s got different tastes and are not all book critics, that’s fine, but please let’s just make this a phrase and get back to reading better novels.
Word count from: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/340987215?