So I’ve read 50 Shades of Grey.
It was OK.
Apologies if that conclusion isn’t exactly revealing or particularly interesting, but that’s all I’ve got: it wasn’t brilliant, it wasn’t awful, it was just OK.
Let me say first up that I can completely understand the outrage writers and consumers of quality literature feel about the small fortune E L James has made by writing – as one of my dear colleagues quite rightly described it – an extended version of a Cosmo sealed section. Yes, it should have been edited at least three times more, the characters are one-dimensional, the writing isn’t very good and the plot is very basic. But as I didn’t expect great writing or a captivating plot, I wasn’t too disappointed.
What I did find interesting was that it explored the darker side of sexuality in a fairly honest way. At first I thought it was all going to be a fairly mindless soft-porn journey into the world of BDSM, but I thought it did achieve more than that – it tried to be a love story at the same time, and it did show Ana’s struggle in staying true to herself while being drawn into compromising her core values for the sake of a relationship (which is a pretty universal experience for women, IMHO).
I also got a glimpse into why women have been so attracted to the book – and I don’t think it’s that suddenly we all want to try out a bondage lifestyle – it’s because the idea of having someone sexually obsessed with you is kind of appealing. Especially when you’ve been with someone for quite some time and your conversations tend to be more about whether you’ve remembered to buy iron-on knee patches for the kids than a litany of erotic activity you’ve got planned for the evening.
Which is why, of course, this is complete fantasy, and not reality – and this brings me to what I didn’t like about 50 Shades. I found the level of fantasy undermined the eroticism. Christian Grey is impossibly good looking, billionaire-rich, commanding, successful and able to make Ana orgasm with a tweak of a nipple – yeah, ok. Yawn.
Also, while I could cope with the whole BDSM thing on one level (as part of their sex life), I found her deep-seated concern over whether she was making him angry actually worrying – control freak is one step away from abuser, and that line was crossed too many times – my “inner feminist” could not cope with it. Maybe it’s because the whole BDSM thing just doesn’t appeal to me personally. Although that said, when Christian is trying to talk Ana into being a “sub”, he talks about what a relief it will be for her to just let him do all the thinking and make all the decisions. Now that, my friends, DOES sound appealing – I’d be quite happy to hand over thinking about what we’re going to have for dinner for the next few weeks and who’s going to drop the kids to school whether Little Miss should do gymnastics or ballet next year. But I know that’s not very sexy.
Another reason it didn’t do it for me is that I just didn’t feel there was any real sexual tension in the book. In my opinion, Jane Eyre is one of the sexiest books ever written and only one kiss is every described. I am unashamed to admit I like romantic fiction for a fun read – racy and otherwise – and it’s the chemistry between two characters that is important. Partly, this was lacking because of poor writing – the classic “show, don’t tell”. I was sick of being told how attracted to one another Ana and Christian were, and how beautiful and smart Ana was – without actually seeing or feeling it myself. And then as they were having sex by chapter three, it was kind of a let down. It’s the anticipation that makes you keep reading, and there just wasn’t much of that at all.
Ultimately, I think E L James committed the unforgivable sin as a writer – she didn’t make me care about her characters. I won’t be reading the sequels simply because I’m not that interested to find out whether they end up together or not.
I think women who like the book maybe haven’t read widely enough – there is much better fiction available, erotic or otherwise . And as a dear friend pointed out there are so many good books and such limited time, so let’s not waste it on books that aren’t that good!