Monday 20 August 2012

Fifty shades of righteous indignation

My thoughts on Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (2011)

1.It’s impossible to review this book without revealing some of the details of the story. So if you have not read the book(s) and you don’t want to be disappointed, stop right here. Go read Fifty Shades of Grey first. On the other hand, if you want to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into before you decide to read the book, keep on reading. I hope I can help you make up your mind.

2.The below text is about my thoughts on this story and nothing more. In no possible way is this text a reflection on or a suggestion of my own likes or dislikes when it comes to sexual relationships. For the very simple reason, my dearest reader, that my sexual relationships are none of your business ;-)


“Just say yes
Just say there’s nothing holding you back
It’s not a test. Nor a trick of the mind, only love
Just say yes
‘Cause I’m aching and I know you are too
For the touch of your warm skin as I breathe you in”
(Just say yes – Snow Patrol)

I had to read this book. For months now, both positive and negative reviews of it had been coming my way and I just had to see for myself what all the fuss was about. So, on the hottest summer weekend of the year, I started reading Fifty Shades of Grey, the first installment in E.L. James’ Fifty Shades trilogy. And just over 24 hours later, I finished it. I don’t think I’ve ever read a complete novel in less than at least a complete weekend, so this was definitely a first for me.

Cracking Christian
Only a few pages into the story, I remember thinking: “She’s too young”.  And a few pages later, when Christian Grey appears, I thought the exact same thing: “I wish he was older”. Of course, I would very soon discover that Ana’s age is a specific choice of the writer, as is the fact that Christian is only 27 and I think it fits the story very well. Anastasia Steele is not even 22 years old yet; she’s immature, insecure and inexperienced. About halfway through the story, Ana makes the typical female mistake in relationships: she thinks she can change him. And, to my surprise, for a long time, she seems to be succeeding! She’s the perfect antidote to Christian’s carefully constructed life of wealth, confidence and strict rules. The only one who could create cracks in his perfect exterior and make everything he’s ever held true come crumbling down.

Fifty shades of fucked up?
Fifty Shades is a brilliant character study: A character study of the elusive Christian Grey, through the eyes of Ana Steele. We discover Christian together with Ana, we see only what she sees, we only experience events the way she experiences them. It’s that particular choice of making this an eye-witness report by Ana that has allowed many readers to characterize Christian as the devil incarnate: we deal with this girl’s discovery of a man and a lifestyle that she has no idea of, and it’s not always the greatest experience. I’m sure that, if some of the story had been written from Christian’s point of view, people would have reacted much more favorably towards this character. But that’s the whole point of this story: trying to find out what’s going on inside the head of Christian Grey. Is he really fifty shades of fucked up, or not?

Sexual revolution?
I’ve read many reviews of this book, and the one thing that surprised me is that some reviewers did not simply discard the story as badly written and lacking substance or even as insulting filth, but they were actually angry that a book like Fifty shades of Grey could be so very successful. I wonder why? I mean, I personally think that the Twilight books are a collection of nonsensical dribble, but that simply means that I don’t read them. Why would I be angry that they exist? Why would I be angry at the fact that some people tend to compare Christian Grey to some of the most loved romantic heroes such as Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy or Charlotte Brönte’s Rochester? If that’s your opinion, that’s fine. I may not agree, but that’s not the point; what makes these people so angry? Could it be the sexual nature of this book? If you’ve read this book, you’ll know that the sex scenes are extremely explicit. Is that what makes people angry? Is there a certain sense of shock about the brutal honesty and lack of modesty in this story? Are we not as open-minded and sexually liberated as we proclaim to be? I wonder…

Who is Christian Grey?
I personally believe that the explicit sex scenes are part of what makes this a good story. They are frequent, but never vulgar, and they add something to the characterization of Christian Grey. One reviewer said it perfectly: “It is different, exciting, out of the box, off the wall. You must have an open mind to understand how great this book is. It's not porn, it's specific and sexual but the psychological factors are endless.”

With every sexual act that they share, Ana receives little pieces of information about this man that she cannot seem to get away from. If she thought about this rationally, she’d run like hell, but she can’t. She’s intrigued by him, by the world that he’s guiding her into and by the complex personality that is slowly revealing itself to her. I’m sure you too have fallen for the wrong guy at some point in your life – when all your friends said that he was not the man for you and he was not treating you right, you still wanted him.

Why women love Fifty Shades
The success of this book has been attributed to the existence of e-readers like Kindle, making it possible to read a book on a handheld device that does not show the people around you what you’re reading. That’s possible for some, but I have absolutely no issues about reading this book on the train to work. If that’s embarrassing for the person sitting next to or in front of me, than that’s their problem, not mine.

Why did I enjoy Fifty Shades? Because it’s honest, well-written and not trying to be something that it’s not. Oh, and the most delicious main character ever! Christian Grey is mister perfect: the body of a god, a self-made man, intelligent and richer than Oprah. He plays the piano (which, to me, is right up there with a man who plays the cello!), he knows his wine (“I’m not knowledgeable, I just know what I like”), he’s trained to fly a helicopter, has an excellent taste in music (Frank Sinatra! La Traviata!) and he can dance *faints*. And he gave Ana six orgasms in two days!

Oh yes, and he’s an insanely jealous control freak whose preferred way to show affection is by beating the object of his desire with a cane… Nobody’s perfect.

You need to read this book. Put your embarrassment aside, and just go for it!


  1. Great review! Inge
    I may be tempted to read it now!

  2. I'm reading the first book and I couldn't escape the irony of the fantasy. I have no issues about the sex that is the best part, I thought the relationship and the characters where far better in Twilight LOL

  3. The question I ponder could this book be as successful if Twilight hadn't been written, though an obsolete question as this is entirely fanfiction of twilight. Where as Edward withheld sex in fear of killing her when overcome by desire being a vampire and all, this takes another route of control. Ultimately isn't this just an obsessive love story

    1. That's exactly it, Fanny: This is just as much an obsessive love story as Twilight was. But the abstinence and underlying message of not having sex outside of marriage in Twilight was so frustrating to some women that it originated stories like Fifty Shades that take the obsession to the other extreme. And although this is indeed original Twilight fanfiction, I think it's different enough to stand on its own. Heaven forbid that someone casts KS or RP in the roles of Ana and Christian if this story ever makes it onto the big screen!

  4. Her Inner Goddess mention and to many Holy Crap spoil the magic for me though, in any case any reading is always better than no reading, ultimately it's the journey to escape. I hope this book will lead people to far better erotica out there :)

    Pardon blogger freezes up in mobile format
    I'm glad you enjoyed

    1. Well, the Inner Goddess was funny for a while but I agree that she becomes annoying after a few backflips and feather boas. I put up with it because I remind myself that Ana is very young and very inexperienced - I'm prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt...
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts!