50 Shades of Terrible

50 Shades of Grey Review

Maybe I’m behind the times on this, but whatever. I recently started reading 50 Shades of Grey, and these are my thoughts on the novel.

Full disclosure: I haven’t finished the novel yet. In fact, I am only about a third of the way through it. Perhaps by the time I reach the end my thoughts will have changed, and if that turns out to be the case I will amend this post. I don’t think that’s likely.

This novel is terrible.

Not to be all OMG THIS NOVEL IS TEH SUX! or, to quote Chuck Wendig from Terribleminds, “THIS WAS THE WORST THING I’VE EVER EXPERIENCED IT MADE ME STAB MY OWN MOTHER IN THE NECK WITH A BROKEN COKE BOTTLE,” but it really isn’t very good.

If this were just someone’s fan fiction, which is what it reads like, or an amateur work in progress, I would not be so harsh with it. But because it has been professionally published and has made a monkey-shit-load of money, and also because Barnes and Noble dedicates an entire damn shelf to this novel and its sequels, I don’t think I need to pull punches.

So yeah, it’s just awful.

Plot:

It’s boring. I know that this novel, as erotic fiction about S&M, is supposed to be edgy and thrilling, but it isn’t. I’m not going to devote much attention to the sex, but suffice it to say that the erotic parts of the novel are not even really that exciting. This is a major problem for an “erotic” novel.

One element that I take issue with is the chauvinism inherent in the plotline. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why female readers seem to enjoy protagonists like Anastasia, or like Bella from Twilight. Why are they so accepting of heroines that are so willing, even eager, to be dominated by overbearing, manipulative, and controlling men?

(At least Twilight had the love angle. Sure Edward was creepy and borderline stalker, but the justification was that he just loved Bella sooo much. Christian Grey, from 50 Shades, doesn’t even have that slim justification. There is no love between these characters, at least not in the first third. Grey just wants to have sex with Anastasia, and to that end he basically stalks her)

I don’t know a lot about BDSM, but I am vaguely familiar with the notion of a dominant and a submissive. My thought was that the relationship between these two roles was purely in terms of sex. Christian Grey doesn’t just want to be dominant in the S&M part of the relationship; he wants to dominate Ana in all aspects of her life. He issues commands and attempts to control her behavior from the first time he meets her. But for some reason, I suppose because Grey is just sooo beautiful, this is OK.

Characters:

To begin with, both of the main characters in the book are simply unbelievable. What is worse though, is that they are boring. Something that authors should know is that characters need to have some flaws in order to be interesting or relatable. If there is no flaw in a character then there can be no personal growth, and the narrative arc for the character will not be an arc at all, but a straight line.

Christian Grey is perfect. In every way. He is rich, he is beautiful, he plays the piano. I suppose his predilection for “kinky” sex is meant to be a flaw, but it doesn’t really work. It’s not a big enough deal.

Anastasia is the same way. She is not written about in the same terms, but this is probably because the novel is from her perspective. If the novel was from Grey’s perspective we would probably have to endure three or four adjectives all meaning “perfect” for every single sentence in which Ana is mentioned, just like we do for Grey. Anastasia is pretty, fashionable, intelligent and cultured. She loves classic British literature (of course), and immediately recognizes when Grey is playing Bach on his piano. I guess her one flaw is that she is clumsy. Again, it’s not enough to make her interesting.

Writing:

Clichés abound. E L James uses expressions that she has probably read a thousand times before, but she has no real sense of what they mean or where they belong in a text. Also, if I have to read about how perfect Christian Grey is one more time, I probably will actually stab my mother in the neck with a broken coke bottle. After the first two chapters, we get it! It is abundantly clear that Grey is supposed to be some kind of mythically beautiful man, with chiseled lips and the body of an Adonis. You don’t need to reiterate that thought three or four times a page.

The writing is present tense and first person, which is not necessarily a problem, but Ana’s inner monologues are clunky and repetitious. If what we see on the page are the only thoughts in Ana’s head, she is completely vapid. The focus on minutiae is overwhelming at times, and distracts from the plot.

Bottom Line:

I don’t believe that these people could exist. I don’t understand or believe their motivations, and at times Ana doesn’t seem to have any. There is no arc or development. They bore me.

This is not the worst fiction that I have read in my life, but I find myself actually thinking back fondly on the Twilight series. I never thought that would happen.

Rating: 1 star out of 4

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