I knew before I set out to write this review that I was bound to lose some of my reputation with my readers, my editor friends, or reviewers. But, the truth is, I don’t know how else to write this honestly. When I set out to review Fifty Shades of Grey, I had high hopes of laughing my way through the first book. And in fact, I did. Well, the first 5 pages. Then I spent the next 25 pages rolling my eyes and hating the protagonist. Then… I kept reading.I have to be completely honest. It’s in my nature. I’d say it’s almost to the point of being a disorder. I do try to tone it down, but whenever I try to hold it back my writing suffers and my readers do, too. Because, you aren’t getting the entire truth.
You see, even the literary minded, like myself, are human. I prefer my books to stir my mind and my heart, but unfortunately, nowadays there seems to be a fine line between the two. People usually set up camp on one side of the line or the other. I’ve got a problem though; it seems I’ve got a firm foot planted on either side of that line. So which part do I go to first? Do I talk about horribly it was written? About how many times I read the word “lasciviously” and wanted to hurl a thesaurus at E.L. James and whoever she takes writing advice from? Oh yeah, the writing was awful. The prose was about on par with what you’d expect from any average fan fiction. (Don’t get all angry, I highly respect fan fiction writers, some of them are amazing.)
But, as I revisit the book, I find myself defending it more than bashing it. The idea makes me recoil. Seriously, I cringe at the idea that I’d defend such a poorly written book. I’ve read so many reviews bashing it, but my analytical mind went into overdrive somewhere around page 60 maybe?
There may be spoilers, so be warned:
Let’s cut through the muck first. For non-writers, let’s put it this way… it’s plagiarism. This whole series was based on the idea of Edward and Bella, characters that some other author took time creating and developing. Remember the honor system in school? Publishing fanfic breaks these rules. But, there were many issues, aside from the fact that it was a fan fiction that got published. There were more inconsistencies and contradictions than I cared to keep track of. One of my favorites is the fact that the night after graduation when Christian Grey (male protagonist) picks Ana Steele (female protagonist) up at the bar. She’d said she’d never been drunk before. But, almost every single night after that she has some sort of wine. I mean, seriously, there is a lot of drinking in this book. In one scene, Christian Grey takes off his jacket, but it’s already supposed to be off. This is what I mean by inconsistencies. This is something I’d expect an editor to catch.
E.L. James was also a fan of what are commonly referred to as fifty cent words. James would write in fairly common language, and then just toss in some big word that is just not in anyone’s vernacular. She overused words more than any book I’ve ever read. She might rival Stephenie Meyer’s obsession with describing Edward Cullen. Also, she has a penchant for using the phrase, “Oh my.” I’m sorry, I don’t expect to see this outside of historical fiction, and even if it is used in modern works, I expect it to be used in moderation. Moderation, folks, is the key to any word choice.
As a whole trilogy, I feel James got lazy. As a reader who’s never read any erotica, I have to say the first book was rather exciting. After that, the sex scenes were a bit boring and I tended to glaze over them. If I’d slowed my rush to read the whole trilogy, I probably would have been able to predict the whole series… okay, I did that anyway. While I may have gotten tired of rolling my eyes at her newbie writing errors, I can’t say I was really that bored with the story itself. I’m human, and I got sucked into a romance. Guilty as charged.
And here we go into the controversy…. I find myself defending the book mainly because of Christian Grey. No, I do not have a sexual fantasy for this fictional character. No, I’m not into all the stuff he did behind closed doors either. Let’s continue…
I read an article about someone doing a book burning of Fifty Shades because of the way Ana was treated, as if it was some abomination towards women’s rights. I felt another viewpoint was desperately needed. Grey’s character was controlling, sadistic, and obviously extremely masochistic. But, no one wants to account for how he got there. The kid watched his mother die. He was also sexually abused.
What troubles me about this book is somewhere along the way, I started to realize how similar Christian Grey and I were. Granted, he was an extremist. But, he exhibited all the same symptoms I’ve experienced firsthand with PTSD. The nightmares, they happen to real people. How about his need for control? Well, of course, people want to crucify this character as an example of a horribly abusive man. What they don’t know is that the need for control comes because it was taken from him at such an impressionable age… and while out of control something horrible happened. It’s psychologically damaging, and every time it happens afterwards, it leaves a raw feeling similar to being beaten to death while you’re naked in Times Square. So his avoidance of being out of control makes sense for his character. In the second book, about midway through, he relinquishes control and goes all “submissive” on Ana. Well, that’s where it really hit home for me. Granted, I’ve never played around in the “dom/sub” world, but I have laid myself emotionally bare to someone like that. I gave them full control; “tell me what you want from me, I’ll do anything” was the line I used. And it wasn’t sexual.
My whole point is that E.L. James, while writing it horribly, was capable of capturing a very true human condition. And let me tell you, she nailed most of the symptoms. My literary side is glad that she’s taken a difficult human condition and transcribed it into a character. Grey’s character, though not quite as developed as I would have liked, was very intriguing – full of flaws and pain. And, I’m afraid those who have never dealt with something like this will just write it off. Those who are saying Christian Grey is “un-datable”, well, thanks… because you just marked a lot of society as un-datable.
On the other hand, Ana Steele was a completely undeveloped character. Her little “inner goddess” reminded me of that little animated version of Lizzy McGuire. Remember that show? If not, Google it, Ana’s inner goddess was pretty much an adult version of that little cartoon, and for some reason, having that imagery made the book more bearable. And, yes, Ana made horrible decisions with sticking with Grey, but I don’t know anyone who hasn’t made poor dating decisions. If it wasn’t for people (like Ana) who stick around for either because of their insecurities or for their own masochistic reasons, I’d never have found my fiancé. People can help heal other people, and in that process, I realize Grey did some damage to Ana. But, without her idiotic need to stick around, there would be no redemption… for either of them. Ana made Grey feel safe, and Grey, in turn, made Ana feel desired. They redeemed each other. And isn’t that what we want in our literature? We seek redemption for the broken thing that is the human condition because it gives us hope that we are also capable and worthy of redemption, too.