Sunday, May 13, 2012

[review] E L James - Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1)

Title: Fifty Shades of Grey
Author: E L James
Series: Fifty Shades Trilogy, #1
Publisher: Vintage
Format read: Paperback
Source: Loan from Mom
Buy from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookdepository
Summary (via Goodreads):
When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him. Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.

Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.

Erotic, amusing, and deeply moving, the Fifty Shades Trilogy is a tale that will obsess you, possess you, and stay with you forever.
Random paragraph:  "And then this evening, he actually hit me. I've never been hit in my life. What have I gotten myself into? Very slowly, my tears, halted by Kate's arrival, begin to slide down the side of my face and into my ears. I have fallen for someone who's so emotionally shut down, I will only get hurt--deep down I know this--someone who by his own admission is completely fucked up. Why is he so fucked up? It must be awful to be as affected as he is, and the thought that as a toddler he suffered some unbearable cruelty makes me cry harder. Perhaps if he was more normal he wouldn't want you, my subconscious contributes snidely to my musings ... and in my heart of hearts I know this is true. I turn into my pillow and the sluice gates open ... and for the first time in years, I am sobbing uncontrollably into my pillow." (p. 285, paperback edition)

You see that paragraph up there? This is after Christian spanked Ana, supposedly within the confines of an informed, consensual relationship. (Also, this is gonna be explicit and possibly NSFW -- just a warning before you click the jump.)

I'm not really sure where to begin, so I'm going to divide this review up into sections. There is a lot wrong with this book.

Prose: Incredibly repetitive. I went to Google Books to look for the # of times certain words appear. I actually think these are a little on the low side (somebody with a Kindle or an e-reader with a search function might be able to get a more accurate total), but you get the idea:

flush: 66
murmur: 48
fifty shades: 9
crap: 64
holy cow: 14
some sort of "Hungry? Not for food" dialogue/monologue: 4
holy ___: 100
cocks his head to one side: 12
a mouth pressing/tightening/setting into a "hard line": 11
hmm: 36
oh my: 40
inner goddess: 36
subconscious: 54

There are also bits of completely unnecessary detail that could have been removed in favor of moving the story along:

He has a coffee that bears a wonderful leaf pattern imprinted in the milk. How do they do that? I wonder idly. He's also bought himself a blueberry muffin.

And then there are sentences that are completely inane:

Standing, he empties his jeans pockets of BlackBerry, keys, wallet, and money. Holy cow, men carry a lot of crap in their pockets. 
Elena! Holy fuck. The evil one has a name and it's all foreign sounding.  
I can hardly contain the riotous feelings--or are they hormones?--that rampage through my body. 
"Wake up, baby," he whispers, and the effect of his sweet voice spreads like warm melted caramel through my veins.

Multiple chapters begin with dream sequences, usually involving long fingers, gray eyes, and/or an Icarus/moth to the flame metaphor. I'm not even getting into the inner goddess/subconscious stuff. 


Christian is like every bad Dom stereotype rolled into one. He is:
- overly controlling even outside the bedroom
- jealous and possessive
- he repeatedly gets off only for his benefit, even when the contract states that this relationship is in place in part to "help the submissive safely explore her sensuality"
- intimidating, often using threats and bribes to make Ana agree to things
- suffering from a traumatic childhood, which of course explains why he's kinky

His stalker tendencies are through the roof. He's like a combination of every iffy YA love interest, but on steroids. He lavishes gifts on Ana:

- a Macbook, so they can communicate via e-mail (never mind the fact that she's a college graduate who has somehow never had an e-mail address before Christian got her this)
- a Blackberry, so they can communicate at all times
- a new car for graduation, which she must accept if she wants him to attempt "vanilla" sex
- he offers to fly her to Savannah to meet her mother in a private jet; after she refuses and goes to the airport to catch her flight, she finds that he stepped in and upgraded her to first class

From the beginning, when he meets her at her hardware store, he asks if she has a boyfriend -- José, what's he to you? And Paul? Look, this might not go for everyone, but if somebody asked me off the bat if I had a boyfriend and then tried figuring out who he is, I'd file him under the "creep" category. He gets angry at her when male friends contact her, he pumps alcohol into her before discussing the terms of their relationship, he waves all her concerns away with "If you just submit to me, you won't have to worry about all of this," and what I found especially abhorrent: when she asks if she can ask her roommate for sexual advice, because she's completely new to sex and has no frame of reference, he says no. He later says "yes," but in a huffy, passive-aggressive manner. He finds her at a party by tracking her cell phone, and when she's at her mother's place in Savannah to get some distance and perspective, he follows her there.

When he and Ana are discussing the terms of their relationship, he essentially forces her to embrace the punishment aspect despite her reluctance, because it's "part of the deal." When he "punishes" her by spanking her, she doesn't react well at all. He shows up at her place, sees that she's upset, and tries explaining himself:
"How did you feel when I was hitting you and after?"
"I didn't like it. I'd rather you didn't do it again."
"You weren't meant to like it."
Which makes me think: if it's not beneficial to both parties, and one party outright doesn't feel comfortable with it, then why are you incorporating it?! I imagine that in the fictional 50 shades BDSM community, everybody warns newbies to stay away from Christian, because he obviously fails hard at listening to his partner's needs.

Meanwhile, Ana has to be one of the most unrealistic, naive female characters I've had the displeasure of reading about. She's 21 but acts more like a teenager. She's apparently never been aroused before (at one point, her need is described as a "sweet and sharp" pain, which... what), she refers to her vag as "down there" and "the deepest, darkest part of me," and she is shocked and astounded when she has a sex dream, because she never knew she could do that before. When they're about to have sex and she's intimidated by Christian's penis, he has to remind her that the vaginal canal expands. Where was your sex ed, Ana?! WHERE?!

(Also, after he takes her virginity, they're up and raring to go again immediately and she is an Expert Blowjob Giver the next day. COME. ON.)

Her relationship with Christian is ridiculous unhealthy. She feels like she has to agree to his terms, or else she'll never enter another relationship again and will grow old and have a million cats. At 21. She agrees to things she's not comfortable with because she's afraid that he'll leave her otherwise, and she's in constant fear of standing up for herself because he'll harm her. THIS IS WRONG FROM EVERY ANGLE. She signs a non-disclosure agreement and a BDSM contract, despite being completely inexperienced, and Christian goes along with it even after finding out she's a virgin. One of the basic tenets of BDSM is informed consent, and she proves over and over that she can't give it. Either she's too afraid to say anything, or he just manipulates her to try and make her stop worrying about it.

One reviewer on Goodreads concluded her review with, "FSoG is bad erotica. It's bad BDSM, too." Truer words have rarely been spoken.

The other characters are barely distinguishable from their Twilight counterparts -- José is Ana's "boy who is just a friend" who tries forcing a kiss on her and is otherwise a Hispanic stereotype. Kate is blonde, beautiful, and hotheaded. Grace is motherly. Ana's mother is a scatterbrain who's had multiple marriages. Ray lives alone, cares for his daughter, and enjoys fishing. Etc, etc, etc.

Plot: There is none. Sex, sex, sex, worrying over the relationship, sex, jealousy, sex, sex, sex, angst. The end.

Overall: Avoid at all costs.

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