If you haven’t been hearing about Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James much yet, you will very soon.
If you fall into the uninformed category, here’s a little background.
The Fifty Shades series started out as an online Twilight fanfiction. However it was deemed too risqué by the various websites it was on and was booted off. This pushed James to republish the stories with ‘original’ characters on her own website. The sparkling vampire became a young millionaire with a “Red Room of Pain,” and the awkward teenage virgin became an awkward adult virgin. An online publisher recognized the potential of this series and seized on it. Married women 30 and older in possession of e-readers are the main demographic (hence the “mommy porn” reputation), however this series has gained enough attention to get picked up and re-released by a major publishing house. A movie is also in the works, with Alexander Skarsgard and Ian Somerhalder as potentials for the lead role (that fact alone will get me to the theatre). This is huge. To my knowledge no e-book, nonetheless erotic Twilight fanfiction, has ever gained this much success. Not to mention the fact that it’s bringing the BDSM lifestyle out of the shadows and into the public, which will undoubtedly help reduce the negative stigma. You can imagine why this series has garnered so much attention.
I am glad these books exist if it is getting people to read who are not necessarily big with the books. Consider it a gateway drug to more addictive literature. And hopefully it is making people more open-minded when it comes to sex. All the positive things I have to say end there. Like its predecessor, Fifty Shades of Grey also become the centre of a great deal of well-earned criticism. The most obvious being the quality of the writing. Despite being a ‘real’ novel now, it still reads like poorly written fanfiction. It’s a challenge to get through, because it you’ll spend most of the time wondering how writing this terrible made it to bookstores.
Secondly, the characters are completely unrealistic and stereotypical. They are flat, predictable and have little chemistry with one another. The protagonist, Anastasia Steele (yes, Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey), reads more like a 15 year old girl who belongs in a previous decade than a recent university graduate. Majority of her inner dialogue consists of “holy cow,” “oh my” and “double crap.” Finally, this book has come under fire for its portrayal of BDSM. I know people who would consider their sex lives to fit into that category, and they view it as a positive, liberating and intimate experience. But in this work it continually comes off as negative, even though it is the world James is trying to sell. Steele wonders if her lover is kinky because of some sort of abuse, which I feel discounts the validity of it as a lifestyle choice. She feels as though the relationship isn’t exactly ‘real’ because it is atypical. These perspectives might change later in the series, even in this book. However it’s hard to get past that. Ana is so naive that it feels as though she is being taken advantage of as opposed to exploring her sexuality. A novel promoting adventurous sex should not give the reader such conflicting feelings.
I can’t recommend this text to anyone. I’m no expert on erotica, but I know there’s better out there. It’s not even the fact that I am an English major and have high expectations when it comes to literature. I’m also happy reading less substantial books than Wide Sargasso Sea or American Psycho, like the Sookie Stackhouse series (which is one of my many guilty pleasures). I’d even go so far as to state the writing quality of the Twilight series is a step above the Fifty Shades series. It is books like this that make me skeptical about the whole e-book trend. In my opinion, publishing houses exist for a reason. I’m waiting for another e-book to make it big and prove me wrong.
For the time being, this book sits on my table unfinished. If I ever manage to get through it, you’ll be the first to know.