Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’ve been listening to Fifty Shades of Grey when I run. It is essentially, unequivocally, mathematically, and fundamentally the most poorly written book I’ve ever read. I’m not sure I was able to cram enough adverbs into that sentence to convey how bad the writing is. It’s so bad, I think I would have known even before I joined the writers group.

Throw in the horrible voice work  and honestly, I think the book was putting me off my pace. I didn’t realize how much until yesterday when I got to listen to the new book I’m reading as I run. Groaning at bad writing really slows you down. Thanks to the new book, The Chaperone, read by Elizabeth McGovern, I finished my normal course ten minutes faster than my usual time.

What I hate most about 50 Shades is that it ever got published at all. I hope the editor responsible for clearing the manuscript for publication is hiding his or her head in shame. Any high school English teacher could have helped first-time author E.L. James with most of the writing problems. The most offensive to me is an over-abundance of adverbs, including a few she really had to reach for, like sardonically. Many–perhaps most–appear at critical moments, taking me out of the story.

Another big problem with the writing is the amount of repetition. The same phrases appear over, and over, and over. I’ve seen blogs that list the phrases and the number of times each is used. Shameful.

She also includes quite a few email exchanges between the never-going-to-be-a-submissive Anastasia Steele and her dom, the needs-a-good-strong-woman-to-take-control Christian Grey. In print, this might work better, but in audio it’s annoying to always include the to, from, subject, date, time and  closing headers every single time.

And speaking of those emails. The subject changes with each new message. That wouldn’t be the case with reply. Yeah, I know, they could manually change it. But the attempt at realism just came off as fake to me.

Christian wants Ana to sign his BDSM agreement. I won’t bore you with the details. But E.L. will. In fact, the contract is included in the book. We read it as Ana does, without benefit of anything she might be thinking. The entire contract. Every section. Every appendix. No dialogue. No reflection. Just the contract. Later we get all the rules for soft and hard limits again–once more without benefit of any dialogue or reflection.

It was the tell from hell.

The story is written in what I can only describe as first person-multiple. In addition to Anastasia’s often snarky voice, we hear from her athletic Inner Goddess and her guilt-inducing Subconscious. I wanted to think this was a cute and clever device. On occasion, especially at first, the Inner Goddess did make me laugh. By the end, the bad writing gave me such an attitude about the book that I wasn’t willing to cut her any slack for the cheesy device.

The sex is steamy. Women love this book because horse-hung, brilliant, gorgeous, tortured Christian Grey is totally consumed with the desire to make Ana–a virgin when the story opens–climax until she’s unable to walk, talk, or think. He doesn’t make love. He f*cks hard. The fantasy, of course, is that the little wallflower nobody has ever noticed before will mend his tortured heart so he can fall in love with her and live happily ever after, making love instead of f*cking.

Anastasia Steele is every woman. Christian Grey is the handsome prince who rescues her from the overweight, middle-aged, balding man who rolls off of her every other Friday night and goes to sleep. The BDSM angle makes it different from most mainstream romance novels. Based on comments I’ve seen from people who profess to be experts, the BDSM in 50 Shades is wrong, or bad, or somehow not right. I have no idea.

If you’re curious about BDSM, I recommend Exit to Eden by Anne Rice–especially if you saw the horrible movie with Rosie O’Donnell and Dan Akroyd. Like the movie, the book is about an island resort where wealthy people go to indulge their S&M fantasies. Unlike the movie, in the book Rice explores the idea that acting out dominance and aggression through sex games is healthier than the real dominance and aggression that occur out in the world. It’s interesting and highly erotic.

If you like Exit to Eden, look for the Sleeping Beauty Trilogy. It’s also written by Anne Rice, but she uses a pseudonym: A.N. Roquelaure. This retelling of the old fairy tale starts with the handsome prince raping the sleeping princess and then taking her off to the kinkiest kingdom ever conceived. The sex is so hot that it’s hard to read more than a few pages at a time.

But I digress. I’ve also read that much of 50 Shades was apparently ripped off from Masters of the Universe, Pretty Woman, the Twilight series, and half a dozen others.  Again, I think if the writing were better, people would be a lot more forgiving. But since it’s not, they go after her, just like I’ve done today here on…

My Glass House

4 responses to “Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey”

  1. It was actually a piece of Twilight fan fiction called “Master of the Universe”, putting Bella and Edward in the positions that would eventually be filled by Anastasia and Christian when E. L. James – under the handle “Snowqueens Icedragon” (Most. Original. Username. Ever. /sarcasm) – pretty much gave the fanfic community possibly one of the biggest middle fingers ever by retracting it, editing out all the Twilight references and publishing it as a commercial ebook. Then asking her fellow fanfic authors to spread the word. Insult to injury being that she makes no mention of the trilogy’s fanfic roots on her website. :

    Thanks for giving me the mental image of a billionaire He-Man with a bondage fetish, though. Right when I ran out of mind bleach and all. >_<

  2. OMG I am so glad I stopped with the Kindle sample. It was bad enough! 😀 Nicely written, Michael…as always!