“Fifty Shades of Grey” by E. L. James

Book Reviews 74 Comments 18th August, 2012

“Fifty Shades of Grey” by E. L. JamesFifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
Series: Fifty Shades #1
Published by Random House in 2011
Genres: Erotica
Pages: 530
Source: Purchased
Buy the BookGoodreads

 

If you haven’t heard of E. L. James’ smash hit erotic novel “Fifty Shades of Grey,” then you’ve probably been living under a rock.  I’m a bit late to the game; everyone and their mother has read it by now.  By “everyone and their other,” I even mean my mother.

I hadn’t planned on reading the book, but I have a copy of Fanny Merkin’s parody “Fifty Shames of Earl Grey,” and I don’t feel like it’s fair to read a parody without first reading the work that it’s poking fun at.

It took every ounce of willpower that I had to finish “Fifty Shades of Grey.”  I was very tempted to DNF it (for those of you who aren’t book bloggers, DNF=Did Not Finish), but that would mean admitting defeat.  I WILL NOT BE DEFEATED BY A POORLY WRITTEN EROTICA NOVEL!  NEVER!

The basic story is that Bella interviews Edward Cullen for the school newspaper (Okay, it’s Ana Steel and Mr. Grey, but it’s pretty much the same thing).  The two of them are instantly attracted to each other, but Mr. Grey is into BDSM and Ana spends the entire book deciding whether or not she can live with the fact that she’s dating a guy who likes kinky sex.  Then there’s a bad metaphor about Mr. Grey being fifty shades of fucked-up, which comes completely out of the blue and makes no sense.  I mean, fifty shades?  Really?

Let’s look at Ana.  She’s supposed to be a senior in college.  However, James expects us to believe several things about her:

  1. Ana’s still a virgin.  While somewhat remarkable, this one’s still within the realm of possibility.  She’s also incredibly naive about anything sexual, which is even harder to believe.
  2. She’s never been drunk.  Um, did she go to college under a rock?  Still within the realm of possibility if she’s going to BYU, has a medical condition, or never leaves her dorm room, but it’s highly unlikely.
  3. Ana doesn’t have a computer.  Having a computer is pretty much required in college these days, and borrowing your roommate’s won’t cut it when you both have papers due the next day.  Pair this with the two points above and you’re in dangerous territory.  The suspension of disbelief is just not happening anymore.
  4. SHE DOESN’T EVEN HAVE A FRICKIN’ E-MAIL ADDRESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Okay, so I started yelling in shouty caps locks there.  This is 2012.  They give you a lovely .edu e-mail address when you enroll in any college.  In fact, you get one if you even take a single class.  *facepalm*

For someone who supposedly reads a lot, Ana’s remarkably stupid and ditzy.

One should also note that adding the phrase “Holy shit” or “Holy cow” to the end of a paragraph does not make your narrator sound like a young adult.  The colloquialisms that the author used were all wrong, and so Ana sounded like a middle-aged British woman pretending to be a teenager.

Throughout the entire book, Ana has an incessant habit of referring to her inner goddess.  Within the first few chapters, I wanted to find a revolver and shoot Ana’s inner goddess in the face.  I’m the peace-loving hippie pacifist type and don’t do the whole violence thing, but 300-some pages of inner goddess sorely tested those limits.

And then there’s the sex itself.  I expected a lot more based on the way that everyone seems to be reacting to it, but all we get to see is a bit of light bondage and spanking.  This would be fine if we didn’t have to listen to Ana incessantly whine about how much it freaks her out even though at the same time she admits that she enjoys it.  Having read other books that explore the topic of BDSM, I also got rather annoyed that Mr. Grey couldn’t seem to explain at all what’s in it for the sub, such as massive endorphin/adrenaline rushes and the stress relief that comes from letting somebody else be in charge (which is why it’s surprisingly popular with modern career women).

Spoiler alert:  I’m going to bitch about the ending for a few moments.  Spoiler text is in white, so you’ll need to highlight it to read it.

Can anyone say anticlimactic?  Not to mention dumb.  “Oh Mr. Grey, show me your worst!”  “Okay… are you sure?”  “Oh yes!”  *spanking commences*  “Oh noes, I didn’t really mean that!”  *Ana runs away*

You’ve got to be kidding me.  You’re running away from him BECAUSE HE DID EXACTLY WHAT YOU JUST ASKED HIM TO!?!?!  I SUFFERED THROUGH THIS ENTIRE BOOK SO YOU COULD HAVE A FUCKING BREAKUP?!?!?!?!

So as not to be completely one-sided, there were a couple things that I thought the book did well.  One thing that I will give the author props for is the fact that Ana and Mr. Grey always used protection.  This isn’t one of those books where characters have unprotected sex five times a day but somehow miraculously never get pregnant.  Another thing I liked is that James is not afraid to use explicit terms to refer to having sex or to the genitalia.  It bothers me when authors try to use phrases like “throbbing member” to describe a dick.  It’s a total mood-killer, by which I mean I usually start laughing too hard to take the scene seriously.  I was happy that James wasn’t afraid to use four-letter-words when they were warranted.

Overall, I would not recommend “Fifty Shades of Grey” unless, like myself, you’re reading it as preparation for reading a parody.  I like my porno novels to be well-written, thank you very much.

Pro-tip:  If you find yourself forced to read the book, it’s helpful to pretend that the novel is satire and to mentally replace Mr. Grey with Gaston from the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast.  It eventually stops working, but it helps.

74 Responses to ““Fifty Shades of Grey” by E. L. James”

  1. Caro

    It’s funny, yesterday I was listening to the last Bookrageous podcast, and they talked about “Fifty Shames of Earl Grey,” and it sounded so funny that I wanted to read it, but since I haven’t read “50 shades” I wasn’t sure I would get some of the jokes. Your review makes me think that indeed, in order to enjoy “50 shames” I will have to at least flip “50 shades”…but I don’t want to!

    • Grace

      I loved the Fifty Shames parody. I read it last night after work and laughed pretty much the entire time. It made it worth suffering through the real book, and I think it was funnier because I’d read it and it mocks a lot of the things that I had problems with.

  2. L.S. Engler

    Okay, you last hint was so epic it almost made me choke on some edamame. Could you have just provided me with the key to finally unlock my ability to read through this utter piece of shit? Maybe. I actually want to read it now just to enjoy the mind crack that will be “Fifty Shades of Gaston.”

    I’ve probably read enough reviews of this book out of sheer masochism to feel that I’ve practically read it anyway. It’s exactly the same thing that lead me to finally picking up “Twilight.” Thanks for providing me with another review that I gleefully read out loud to my roommate because I can’t get enough of reviews of this book. It’s like a disease or something.

    • Grace

      You’re welcome! It was much more fun to write the review than it was to read the book.
      Also, the “Fifty Shames of Earl Grey” parody of it is excellent, and you’d probably enjoy it. I read it last night and was cracking up the entire time.

  3. Dravite

    Thank goodness I wasn’t the only one who wanted to strangle her inner Goddess! I’m wiccan, so I’m all for goddesses and worshipping your inner divinity, and I still wanted to strangle her within the first couple of chapters. And the constant “Oh my…” that Ana gave us, if she reads as many English classics as she claims, then you would think she had something more sensible to say?

    • Grace

      Exactly! I’m pretty sure that inner divinity doesn’t mean having voices in your head do cartwheels every time you look at a guy.

      • Dravite

        -laughs- No, there is very seldom voices in my head, and if there is, they’re certainly not doing cartwheels or dancing samba.
        Actually, inner divinity has nothing to do with a little chibi-goddess.

        I was feeling a bit bad for slaughtering the book in my own blog without reading the entire thing, but I see now that it wouldn’t have made a difference, I just spared myself the headache

        • Grace

          Haha, you didn’t miss anything. It’s probably better to stop before the end, because the ending is infuriating.

  4. Booky Pony

    Agree with you on every point! I’m still about 100 pages from finishing, but oh gods, it’s so hilariously bad! I won’t go into detail right now, because I will do some serious blogging about this later, but you are so right about it, in every way!

    • Grace

      While I was reading I was just like …um, is this serious? The writing is atrocious, even though the premise itself seemed to have potential.

  5. RealBooks4ever

    I have absolutely no interest in this book. I don’t understand all the hype, or why its outsold the Harry Potter books in the UK. You’re review confirms my suspicions that its really not for me!

    • Grace

      My suspicion is that the primary appeal is for people who are somewhat sexually repressed and discover for the first time that they can read naughty books on their e-readers without anybody realizing it.

  6. Nan

    See, I never got why anyone who read this book took it seriously. I enjoyed the series, but I read it in the same way I’d log onto fanfiction.net and read a fanfiction. I did not expect good writing and was not granted it. The problems the author made between Ana and Christian resolved in the end, and *spoiler* Ana gets pregnant when she doesn’t use protection. This thrilled me. Delving into character minds and reading what made them do what they did (Why does Christian stay friends with Mrs. Robinson, for example) really interested me. But then again, I’m probably one of the few people that read the book and diagnosed the characters with psychological disorders and thought of better therapy ideas for all of them. This is an immense pleasure of mine in reading, finding plot holes that could be solved by a little bit of therapy.

    Ana has peter pan syndrome and is suddenly forced to get over it, and in a way that’s much… ah, further, than what the usual girl does.

    Christian has severe post traumatic stress disorder, along with his other phobias and disorders, and Freud would have a field day with his mother issues. He does do one thing the book never focuses on and throws himself wholly into his job (or did, anyways), which is a lovely coping mechanism for disorders like this that you can distract yourself from. Likewise, when he starts to pull himself away from his coping mechanism, his issues become more pronounced. Also, while he doesn’t have depression, he has a crippling level of self-hatred that is usually accompanied by depression. He also has OCD.

    Later in the series an ex-sub comes along with serious major issues, and like him she has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and more than likely stress-induced Schizophrenia. Though she’s not a very bad schizophrenic, compared to usual full blown schizophrenia.

    Ana’s mother has Rose Colored Glasses. Our mother, and several other adults I know, have these for their children. She also has husband issues up there with Amber’s aunt (who married/divorced 7 times). She’s insecure and has this issue where she needs to feel loved by any man that will do it.

    Ana’s stepfather and Jose are pretty much the two genuinely “normal” people in this book. But I can’t say too much, because while Ana attracts all friends with extreme mental disorders, I tend to do the same thing.

    • Grace

      I’ve only read the first book in the series. Not sure if I’m masochistic enough to force my way through the others; I’ve never been much of a fan of fanfiction largely because it’s poorly written and almost never edited. The writing/editing is one of my biggest pet peeves when I read, so it can take a fun concept and utterly destroy it.

      I’m with you on Jose and Ray being the only two normal characters in the book, although I’ll say that the butler’s pretty okay too. :D

      • Nan

        I’m not sure I’d call Taylor normal, but admittedly, he is one of my favorite characters. Though, to put yourself through working with Christian and all his temper tantrums, well, you gotta be at least a bit of a masochist (Dr. Flynn says this is OK though, as masochism isn’t really a mental disorder).

  7. Elizabeth Lawrence

    Wonderful review! You really made me laugh – although I would have suggested Elmer Fudd rather than Gaston. I read that piece of tripe when it was still being posted online as fan fiction. If I couldn’t bring myself to finish it then, I can’t imagine BUYING it to suffer through it now. The sales on this trilogy make me completely despair for the human race, even more than U.S. political campaigns – and that’s saying something. I think the success of these books – no. The fact that these books were even printed is an insult to a huge number of people. Writers should be offended that this kind of drivel is being marketed as meritorious or even risque work. BDSM community members should be offended that their lifestyle is being so inaccurately portrayed. Women’s rights activists and women’s shelter staffs should be offended that a modern novel is still espousing the “if I just love him enough, he’ll change” mentality that is responsible for so many women staying in legitimately abusive relationships. Considering the public outcry when Twilight was released, I cannot for the life of me understand why labeling it “mommy porn” makes it somehow exempt from the same criticisms. I am completely mortified that my species would contribute to the success of such a pile of foetid bile, but then again, we are living in a time when eating a chicken sandwich is considered political activism, so what the hell do I know?

    • Grace

      Thanks! Elmer Fudd would be hilarious… :D

      I agree completely that the book is insulting to women, writers, and the BDSM community. I’m even more annoyed at the publishers for jumping on the bandwagon and printing it without it undergoing serious editing; so many of the issues that the books had should have been fixed before it was published.

  8. lynnsbooks

    50 shades of shit! This book was so annoying. Everyone in work was really keen to know what I thought (mainly because they know I read a lot) so I went in and ranted about it for about 50 minutes. Basically I was in the minority, most were trying to convince me to carry on and were defending the book, some were looking at me as though I had two heads and a few just sort of slunk off. What really surprises me is that I never realised that there were so many women out there who just wanted to read about sex – it’s not like there’s a shortage of books with sex in them after all and I’m sure that a lot of them have a better story not to mention written decently. I think the thing that now winds me up the most is that the market will simply be inundated with the same type of book – just like the after effects of Twilight which saw the market swamped with vampire and werewolf novels. I even read on another blog that one publisher is now going down the line of writing a few extra scenes into the classics – so, Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet rolling around in the haystack or Mr Rochester and Jane having a bit of kinky sex in his gothic mansion – pah!

    Lynn :D

    • Grace

      Exactly! In fact, even if people are looking specifically for well-written books with BDSM sex, there’s always Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty novels, which are incredibly well-written and incredibly disturbing, or Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series, which features a masochistic prostitute who saves her kingdom and has a lot of sex along the way. It bothered me that the books that are poorly-written glorified Twilight fanfiction would be the ones to get popular when there are so many well-written books that would deserve the same recognition.

  9. Caleb Flanagan

    I have not read this book, nor will I ever read this book, but I cannot tell you how awesome I find it that you mentioned BYU in a review about it. This is as a former BYU student. I spit out my delicious orange soda when I saw the “stone-cold sober” BYU reference. Props.

  10. Marian Halcombe

    This review was so much fun to read — in fact, I’ll bet money that it’s *way* more entertaining than reading the actual book. A friend of mine sent me some excerpts and HOLY WOW were they terrible.

    Look, I’ve read some stuff on fanfiction.net and enjoyed it despite bad editing and over-use of the word “aargh”, but at least those folks didn’t have the temerity to charge me ten bucks for it.

    • Grace

      Yes! The price they’re charging for these books is absolutely ridiculous. When I purchase a book from a major publisher, I generally do so with the expectation that I’m in part paying for an editor.
      I made myself wait two days after finishing the book before even writing my review, because if I would have written it immediately it would have been almost entirely in shouty caps lock, and it would have contained far more expletives.

      • Marian Halcombe

        The fact that the character doesn’t have a computer OR an e-mail address deserves LOTS of shouty caps, IMO. Is this supposed to show that Ana is “deep” or something, the way characters used to not watch TV because they loved books so much? I’m sorry, but not having an e-mail address doesn’t say “deep.” It says “either Amish or a total moron.”

        • Grace

          These days your professor communicates with you solely by e-mail outside of class. If she didn’t have an e-mail address that she checked regularly, I don’t see how she’d have made it to senior year.

  11. cookiejarprincess

    Oh thank the gods, FINALLY someone else who agrees that this book is utter crap. (though I will admit that the term shouty capitals is fabulous in a weird i-hate-every-other-word-she-wrote way)

    • Grace

      I keep hearing people say how fabulous this book is, and it makes me wonder whether we’ve read the same thing. There’s well-written erotica out there. This just isn’t it.

  12. Ellie

    I have not read it and no, I never will. I think it’s a bookseller thing — I don’t like to read things that everybody seems to buy! :)

    • Grace

      I always get hesitant when something gets too much hype, because generally when it comes to books it’s a warning sign that I’ll be disappointed. The only recent exception to that one was The Hunger Games, which would have been better without the stupid love triangle but still were an interesting concept.

  13. DEBK

    I have read the book, and like you all, it was so poorly written! Yes, the Inner Goddess thing was so repetitive and stupid, why did an editor not catch that? Aside from the obvious poor writing, why is it okay for a man to be so domineering (not sexually dominant, but control-freak domineering) and this supposedly smart girl does not see anything wrong with this picture? I had the same reaction with the Twilight series. I kept asking myself, why is everyone raving over this poorly written series of books? And in the Twilight case, why was it okay for a normal girl to completely change herself for a guy? What are these books teaching our daughters? Almost makes me understand book-burning.

    • Grace

      Part of the problem is that it was self-published first, so no real editor, and then when it got picked up by a major publisher I think they were afraid to change anything, even though it drastically needed it. And yeah, like you, I was annoyed that Mr. Grey kept using sex as a weapon to control Ana; it’s one thing for mutually consenting adults to have some fun in the bedroom, but it’s a completely different story to be like “You will do this or we will break up.” Also, he had a lot of unresolved stalker issues, and stalking is not romantic, it’s creepy.

  14. Ryan

    I wasn’t going to read this book but now that I read your review (awesome, BTW) I feel compelled to read it for kitcsh value alone.

    • Grace

      Thanks! This was one of the few books that I’ve read that was so poorly written that it made me angry, and it infuriates me that it’s a bestseller.

  15. Richard

    I never even heard of this novel till Duke Nukem read it. Nor do I care to even read this book unless Duke Nukem reads it for a audio book.

    Why would you ever expect any porn novel to be well written, that the plot is based solely on the porn alone? It’s just as trashy as any other media, only in novel form pleases females more. The premise of the novel here,”deciding whether or not she can live with the fact that she’s dating a guy who likes kinky sex”, just confirms that females read some of the most shittiest novels ever made to get a jolly or really hate themselves. I really can’t decide if it’s either or both, but I’ll assume it’s one of them.

    The Canterbury Tales with the Nun story is more hardcore then this, mainly since the story is used as shock value, and she did a lot more then light BDSM (and this was written in 14th century England).

    • Grace

      The problem that I had with it is that there are well-written erotica novels out there. I’ve read some of them. This one’s just terrible, and it bothers me that a publisher would release it without giving it major edits. Not only that, it gives all erotica a bad name…

      • Richard

        I have a biased opinion of them. I dislike them all, and really no interest in reading them. This just comes off as rather excuses to abuse a character in the novel and have violent pornography. I just like how character development is on par with a stone. She sounds like a dumb person that is meant to have sex and used as a tool for that sole point in the novel, and to extended reading for a extra 500 pages. How can it give erotica a bad name, with the many trashy romance novels that already exist?

        • Grace

          Well, there’s a difference between erotica and romance; they’re two different genres with different focuses. Normally I can’t stand romances because the female protagonists have a tendency to be ditzy, which is the same reason why I rarely watch chick flicks. The author of Fifty Shades did attempt character development, she just didn’t do a very good job of it. As far as erotica goes, I don’t read much of it, but the examples that I have read have all been surprisingly well-written, even to the point that I wished that the regular fiction that I was reading at the time was on the same level.

          • Richard

            I honestly can’t tell the difference between the two those days. I can tell the difference between older works, but not today. Since most modern romance novels is so sex focused that it takes away the literal meaning of the point of the genre. I find most romances/erotics have stupid characters either it be male or female. I just don’t understand the point in having a female in already female read genre that has stupid female as the protagonist. I also don’t see the point either is having a male that is a stupid sex craved character that their only motive is self-fulfilment that also comes off a misandry by the author.

            I don’t read Anna Rice, nor care to read anything by her. The novels might have well written dialogue, but I’ve had quite enough of fantasy; especially vampires that sparkle.

            A decent play called Cyrano de Bergerac, I felt is worthy to read. If your into reading older works.

            • Grace

              I’ve been trying not to judge genres that I don’t read much of because lately I’ve surprised myself by liking books that are outside of my norm. One example is the whole YA trend… while a lot of them are exactly what I expected, some of them are actually very good.

              Oddly enough, erotica used to be read mostly by men. And just because it’s a genre widely read by women doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with it. Also, there are a surprising number of romance novels that don’t have any sex at all; I know of at least one blogger who focuses entirely on clean romance reviews.

  16. Rhin

    I’ve read this book just to know and understand what the hype is about. Good thing I’ve only bought the first book because I don’t plan to read the rest of the books in the series anymore. Buying the whole set would just be a waste of money.

    I was disappointed because a book like this can become a best-seller. While some people loved this book, I, on the other hand, got irritated by Ana’s personality, coupled with repetitive words like inner goddess. Plus, the ending was bad! I agree with your reaction about the book’s ending. It makes me want to slap Ana on the face.

    • Grace

      The worst part about the ending is that you know that it only happens to make you want to pick up the next book. It was infuriating. I couldn’t stand Ana; she was the type of ditzy heroine that makes me avoid romance in general. I’d be willing to bet that the book became popular because of the BDSM (even though it’s misrepresented in the book) along with the realization that one can read erotica on an e-reader without anybody else knowing.

  17. diploeats

    Great review! Huzzah grace!

    My two cents: I don’t know if you caught the video of that girl cutting up the Lemony Snicket books for an “arts and crafts” project (guaranteed to make book lovers cringe)… I am in no way pro book mutilation, but I would make an exception for this series.

    • Grace

      Thanks! I did not see that video, however this was the only book that I was tempted to completely delete from my Kindle.

  18. TBM

    I haven’t read this one yet. I may break down at some point just so I can throw in my two cents. But it doesn’t appeal to me much. Then again I do like to laugh. According to Stephen King’s On Writing I should read bad writing to learn how not to. Just like that previous sentence or two. I need my morning cup of tea!

    • Grace

      The only reason I read it at all was because I felt like it was only fair to do so before reading the parody. If you decide to read it, be prepared for hilariously bad writing. It’s a pretty good example of how not to write a book.

      • TBM

        That might be a good way to sell books. Don’t write like this author. Read it to find out just how bad it is!

        • Grace

          Haha, although if that’s one’s selling point then there are some serious problems in the publishing industry. :P

  19. Tanya

    Oh, good heavens. I’ve been reading all those reviews and thinking, “Okay..trashy writing, but that’s about it, right?” Apparently not.
    I need to read the parody. I doubt I have your patience to suffer through the original, though.
    “Within the first few chapters, I wanted to find a revolver and shoot Ana’s inner goddess in the face.” BWAHAHA! Priceless.

    • Grace

      The parody’s definitely worth the read. It mocks pretty much everything that I found wrong with the book.
      I’m not even exaggerating with the inner goddess. The worst part was when the inner goddess would show up in the middle of a sex scene and I’d just be like “You’ve gotta be frickin kidding me!”

  20. Redhead

    I suddenly love this piece of shit book!

    because all these negative reviews are so entertaining! so much spewed coffee, so much. it’s a good thing. hilarious reviews, parodies, maybe this was James’s plan all along? but somehow I doubt it!

    • Grace

      I’d have to say that hands down it’s probably the worst book I’ve ever read. It makes me angry because the story itself had a lot of potential to talk about a different kind of romance. It could have been great, but instead it was just crap.

  21. wherethereisjoy

    Oh, this is too funny. I had the book in my hands for a few days, but then decided not to read it and return it to the library. You know what won, over Fifty Shades? Cat Daddy, by that Cat Whisperer guy, Jackson Galaxy. That’s how bad the book looked — cat guy won out over trashy erotica (and usually, I’d pick the trash over just about anything! — quick dirty read, like I like it! But this looked actually too awful for me)

    • Grace

      Cat Whisperer would definitely be an improvement. I don’t mind trashy erotica, but I like my literary porn to be well-written, otherwise it makes me angry rather than relaxed. :D

    • Grace

      Thanks! I’d have been better off never having read it. It takes a pretty bad book to make me go into angry shouty caps. :P

      • Acid Free Pulp

        Think of it as taking one for the team. You’ve satiated enough readers with your great write-up who might have been marginally tempted to give it a go out of curiosity.

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