Since I’m just like everyone else, I’m reading Fifty Shades of Grey. I’m actually behind the curve on this one, as I was struggling my way through War and Peace when most of my friends were devouring this… book.
This book is wildly popular, but I have some issues with it. This post is chock full of spoilers, so if you’re planning to read Fifty Shades of Grey and don’t want to know what’s going to happen:
STOP READING NOW!
The book is mostly about a sexual relationship, so this post is going to not only acknowledge the existence of sex, but talk about certain sex acts in detail. If that’s going to offend you:
STOP READING NOW!
The book is written in first-person, present tense. I think first-person is difficult to write. When it’s done well, it’s masterful (See: Twain, Nabokov, Faulkner). But it’s very easy to do it poorly (See: E.L. James). Present tense is almost impossible to do right. Unless you’re writing a choose-your-own-adventure book, I’m hard pressed to think of a successful work of literature written in present tense.
[NB: If you know of one, by all means, please do share in the comments.]
Our protagonist, Ana Steele, is completely unexperienced. And no, not just about sex. She’s graduating from college in the year 2011, but doesn’t own a computer and seems to find email a novel idea. She’s never had sex, never masturbated and never even been kissed. And yet, she experiences her first orgasm from breast stimulation. She immediately identifies it as an orgasm. She experiences her second orgasm from vaginal intercourse. Again, it’s earth-shattering and she immediately knows it’s an orgasm, despite having zero experience or frame of reference.
Sure, none of this is impossible. But it’s pretty damn unlikely, isn’t it?
The blocking of the sex scenes is equally improbable. She performs oral sex in a bathtub, while still being able to look directly into Christian Grey’s eyes. Think about that for a moment. Explain to me how that’s possible. She must have a particularly flexible neck or it’s a damn big bathtub.
Christian Grey is a billionaire who seems to favor white linen shirts all the time. He also favors black denim. Despite a closet full of bespoke suits, he chooses to wear a white linen shirt, black jeans, black jacket and black tie to dinner with Ana. Black jeans. With a tie.
You could quickly get drunk if you played a drinking game and took a shot every time James mentions that Grey’s pants hang from his hips just so or every time she mentions one of his white linen shirts.
There are two other imaginary characters that play a large part in the story. Ana’s “Inner Goddess” and her “Subconscious”. The inner goddess tends to favor dressing as a cheerleader, complete with pom-poms. The subconscious isn’t Ana’s unconscious mind at all, as she has regular conversations with her. These two could just as easily have been the angel and the devil on Ana’s shoulders, as one is constantly tearing her down and the other is only encouraging her to make bad choices.
Again, play a drinking game and take a shot every time James mentions inner goddess or Ana’s subconscious and you’ll be drunk well before Chapter 12. Take a shot every time I’ve rolled my eyes and yelled out, “Bullshit!” while reading Fifty Shades of Grey and you’ll be drunk even quicker.
If I hate the book so much, why am I still reading it? I don’t know. I keep waiting to find something redeeming in the story or the writing. So many of my friends have enjoyed it and recommended it. I’m sure I’ll force myself to finish, but it might take a while.
I think this book is best enjoyed by women who have never read good erotica. I’m getting everyone on my Christmas list a copy of Anaïs Nin’s Little Birds. But given how much they like Fifty Shades of Grey, they’ll probably hate it.