50 Shades too many…

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!

13 thoughts on “50 Shades too many…

  1. Disappointed

    Your last paragraph is a rather broad/sweeping generalisation. I know quite a few women who like the book that I would regard as having ‘read widely’. While everyone is entitled to their opinion (yourself included), I do not think it is fair or right to pass judgement on those that like the book and deduce from that how extensively they may or may not have read other books/literature.

  2. Peta W

    Having initially dismissed 50 Shades as absolute rubbish, you’ve made me think a little harder Em, so thanks for that. Obviously I can’t abide the writing, that goes without saying, however, it’s the excitement this book has generated in modern women that has really concerned me. Like you, BDSM isn’t for me. It doesn’t sit well with my feminist tendencies and I have no desire to be controlled nor do I see anything desirable or erotic about experiencing pain for the sexual gratification of another. But this stuff has driven so many women I know crazy! Is this what women really want – to be controlled? What does this mean for feminism? Am I out of touch, a bit of a prude or do I just enjoy intimacy with my partner knowing that we’re BOTH having a good time and can genuinely trust each other? The popularity of this book (rather than the book itself) has raised a lot of questions about women and sex in today’s society and I’m surprised Germaine Greer isn’t all over it! I thought your comments about a woman’s need to be the object of sexual hunger, particularly having potentially spent years in a mundane long-term relationship, added something to my understanding of why this book has captured so much attention.

    And you are so right about Jane Eyre. Still one of my all time favorites, eroticism by anticipation!

  3. souljourneygirl

    No judgement intended – I did qualify my statement with “maybe” – and I have friends who did like the books and that is fair enough. It was an observation I made while trawling around looking at the positive reviews – from what I read, a lot of the really positive reviews were written by women who, of their own admission, did not read much. That’s why I said what I did above about the linkage – but yes you are right in that it would not apply to all readers.

  4. souljourneygirl

    Peta – Jane Eyre – absolutely! I have said it before, and I’ll say it again, those Victorian writers understood sexual tension. And yeah I think it’s the appeal of being desire like that that’s part of the whole fantasy thing. I find it all very interesting, particularly the sexual politics at play. And I guess it’s a good thing we’re discussing it!

    1. mylifeinuggboots

      Problem is, not enough women are discussing it, they’re just swallowing (pardon the pun) this poorly drawn fantasy without a second thought. That’s why I’m actually inclined to agree with your last paragraph! 🙂

  5. Selina Nisanyan (@SelinaNisanyan)

    I also just finished them (all 3 though, I can’t leave a series or book unfinished, it’s a curse) and I have to say the BDSM/erotica thing aside, I found the character of Christian Grey ridiculous. The guy is basically like Bruce Wayne on steroids….he can pilot a helicopter, he is pretty much a concert level pianist, he earns 100 thousand dollars an hour but never seems to actually do any work, he makes every woman swoon on sight, he wants to end world hunger blah blah all at the ripe age of 27.

    I went through the first book not really being able to enjoy any of it cos I was always slightly concerned with the dark undertones, similar to what you talked about. Book 2 and 3 were better for this..but by the end of it, I felt like the sex started to interrupt the (beginnings of) a plot line..I was like wow, I’m getting into..oh..here they go again.

    And if I ever hear the term ‘inner goddess’ again, I cannot be held accountable.

    Oh and Emma, the whole classics having more of a slow build thing? http://m.csmonitor.com/Books/chapter-and-verse/2012/0727/Literary-classics-get-the-Fifty-Shades-of-Grey-treatment Yep.

    1. souljourneygirl

      Selina I checked out that link – Oh my. And “inner goddess” – yeah I wanted to throw something through a window! Bruce Wayne on steroids – love it. I found all of that so annoying. Well you ‘ll have to tell me if they end up together in book 3 and then I won’t die wondering 🙂

    2. Maja

      I have a whole list of words I never want to hear thanks to the book! Just to name a few, yes – inner goddess and all her gymnastics (arrgh!) “delicious” and all the denominations of “Holy crap”.

      Almost finished Book 2, which I agree is much better but am finding the sex scenes tiresome and boring. Indeed, they appear just as you think you’re finally going to delve into the life of the characters. Suppose that’s the suspense that keeps me reading..and the fantasy of Grey’s wealthy lifestyle. Lapping it up and putting it out there to materialise!

      1. souljourneygirl

        Ha ha – yeah, I wouldn’t mind earning a mint and solving world hunger while all the time not doing terribly much. Someone else said the same thing about the sex scenes – they interrupt to narrative too much. Now that’s saying something!

  6. Mary

    Enjoyed reading your review, Emma. I was wondering whether to red that book, but from your comparison with the Victorian writers, I think I’ll give it’s miss. I tend to skip too many pages and stop reading long before the end when you don’t start caring about the characters early on.

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