Book Review: Fifty Shades of Grey (part 1)
Oh, Halfworlders, I am so sorry. That’s the appropriate thing to do in this situation, right? Apologize? Even if I’m going to be making fun of it, it still feels cruel of me to expect you all to read about it.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know a thing or two about the Fifty Shades trilogy. You probably know that it was originally Twilight fanfiction — titled “Master of the Universe” — and you probably know that it’s about an innocent college virgin falling for a rich entrepreneur with a dark and troubled past and a taste for BDSM. Until I started reading it, that was about as much as I knew myself. Honestly, it should have stayed that way.
Before we get started, please understand that I want to give this thing a fair chance. It’s a smutty novel, not great literature, and I don’t want to hold it to ridiculously high standards. But from what I’ve read, my hopes are not high. I’m not even sure I have hopes anymore.
For the sake of being thorough and in-depth, and because I haven’t seen anyone else do this, I decided to do the review chapter-by-chapter. I’m only a few chapters in and this is already shaping up to be a very foolish decision. The book is twenty-six chapters long. But hey — if I handled all those awful fanfics, I can handle Fifty Shades of Grey. Right?
Before we dive in, I’m going to tell you a little about the author. Why? Because the book assumes I want to know and helpfully gives me a brief biography before the first chapter starts. The author’s name is E.L. James, and there is no explanation as to what either the E or the L stands for. She’s a married TV exec with two children, and she’s British. She’s “dreamt of writing stories that readers would fall in love with” since childhood, but “put those dreams on hold to focus on her family and her career”. Then, finally, she “plucked up the courage to put pen to paper with her first novel, Fifty Shades of Grey”. Who does this remind you of? Right — Stephenie Meyer! English major who had apparently never even written a short story before writing Twilight! Possesses weird fetish for overly controlling sparkly men!
I don’t know much about E.L. James other than that. I think her kids are both boys, possibly both teenage, and I think James herself is middle-aged (forties?), though I could have made that all up. Right now I’m too lazy to look her up online, so let’s just get to the book itself.
Fifty Shades of Grey: Chapter One
Our first-person narrator/heroine, Anastasia Steele, begins the book in a bad mood. How very Bella of her. Speaking of Bella, I should note that while Ana’s physical description is in most respects the same as Bella’s (brown hair, pale skin, etc.), Ana’s eyes are blue, rather than brown like Bella’s eyes. Stephenie Meyer has brown eyes; are E.L. James’ eyes blue? I see no other reason for changing her eye color, apart from “look guys I’m so totally not Bella Swan.”
Anyways. Ana’s grumpy because her roommate Kate (who I think is Rosalie in the original fic, based on her blonde hair and gorgeousness) is ill and can’t go interview the CEO of Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc. She’s a journalist for their college paper and it took her a long time to get the interview, so instead of sending someone actually competent to take her place she sends Ana. Well, this is already off to a great start.
Despite being a complete idiot, Kate is not a complete idiot and gives Ana a mini-disc recorder and a list of questions to ask the CEO. She also lends Ana her Mercedes CLK, as Ana’s car is an old VW Beetle and apparently not fit for a drive from Vancouver to Seattle. Already we can tell that this is going to be a book with a lot of product placement.
Ana reaches Grey Enterprises headquarters, which is a very large, very modern office building, and fidgets nervously for about half a page. She explains to the reader that she doesn’t know a thing about the man she’s interviewing, not even his age. She also explains that she would rather be reading “a classic British novel”. Oh, I love Classic British Novel by Dead British Author! You’re just so relatable, Ana! It’s details like these that really make a story.
Ana waits in a lobby until one of the many attractive young blonde women working there tells her Mr. Grey is ready to see her. She goes into his office and promptly trips over her own feet and falls over, landing on her hands and knees. Foreshadowing?
Mr. Grey helps her up, and she gets a good look at him — he’s young, under thirty, and very handsome. The description makes him sound like an older, less sparkly Edward (which he is); dark coppery hair, tall, gray eyes (geddit, like his name?). He introduces himself as Christian Grey and they shake hands, which leads to this little gem:
As our fingers touch, I feel an odd exhilarating shiver run through me. I withdraw my hand hastily, embarrassed. Must be static.
You know how static feels so exhilarating.
After recovering from having tripped/the exhilarating static,
Bella Ana tells Edward Christian her name and that she was sent in place of her roommate. There’s a bit of description of the office, which is very large and decorated on one wall with many small paintings. See, look, guys, Christian is so handsome and rich and tasteful omg.
The interview doesn’t go very well at first. Ana’s nervous, Christian’s arrogant, and the questions Ana has to ask get a little personal, which is uncomfortable — she has to ask him about the fact that he’s adopted, and if he’s gay, for example — and doesn’t go over well. (Because apparently it’s offensive for someone to ask politely if you’re gay?) After the gay question, Ana apologizes to Christian and explains that the questions are Kate’s, not hers.
At this point, the interview takes a turn for the somewhat weird. Christian takes a sudden interest in Ana, to the point where he instructs one of his blonde employees (they are all blonde and I have no idea why) to cancel his next meeting. Christian asks Ana what she plans to do after she graduates (which is soon; Ana’s senior year is nearly over), and says that his company has an excellent internship program. Pretty innocent questions, but the way he’s staring at Ana makes her uncomfortable — well, more than uncomfortable, actually:
His gaze is intense, all humor gone, and strange muscles deep in my belly clench suddenly.
That ain’t your belly, Ana.
Christian offers to show Ana around, but she declines, saying she ought to be heading back as it’s a long drive. He seems oddly anxious about her driving safety and urges her to be careful. She packs up, they shake hands, and Ana leaves. Actually, there’s more awkward sexual tension and staring before that, but it’s really not worth relating.
Holy Cow! Alert: The author has a fondness for this phrase, as will become clear later on. It’s marginally less annoying than Bella’s “Holy crow!”, but still irritating, especially since I’m sure it was “Holy crow!” in the original. Our first example of the phrase comes four pages in, when Ana meets Christian.
Holy cow – he’s so young.
Oh, I Doubt It Alert: Ana’s thoughts on sick roomie Kate’s appearance:
Even ill she looks gamine and gorgeous, strawberry blonde hair in place and green eyes bright, although now red-rimmed and runny.
I’ve never known anyone to look “gamine and gorgeous” while suffering from the flu. Also, “strawberry blonde hair in place”? Who the fuck does their hair when they’ve got influenza? MADAM, I DOUBT THE VERISIMILITUDE OF YOUR
SMUTTY FANFIC EROTIC NOVEL.
The elevator whisks me with terminal velocity to the twentieth floor.
No it doesn’t, you moron.
Thoughts So Far:
Oh geez. It’s bad, it really is bad.
The writing reads like the work of someone who thinks they’re a great writer. It’s not actually. I guess the writing’s decent by fanfiction standards, but this is a published novel. You’d think some editing would have occurred between the fanfic version and the final product, but it looks like all she did was change the names. (The fic was AU already, obviously.)
Both of the main characters strike me (geddit) as boring, at least so far. Ana is so painfully shy it’s annoying, and her level of sexual obliviousness seems absurd for a 22-year-old college student living in 21st-century America. The book seems to imply that she has never felt any sort of sexual desire in her life until meeting Christian Grey, which is just silly. Christian is boring, too, in that he seems completely one-dimensional. His only attributes are rich, handsome, and controlling, which is the bare minimum needed to fulfill the story’s premise.
On the one hand, sure, it’s only chapter 1. On the other hand, I say that if you’re a published author and you’ve written a story that does not suck in your readers from the very beginning, you have failed. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule — you could argue that a lot of great literature starts out slow then builds gradually — but, again, this isn’t great literature, it’s a smutty novel. By the end of chapter 1, I should be looking forward to your characters taking their clothes off. Too bad I’m not.
If I wasn’t reading this for THW, and if I wasn’t curious as to why exactly this book is such a hit, I’d stop reading right here. Honestly I would.
Oh, the things I do for this blog.