Yes, I did it. I read the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey, the first book in E.L. James' erotic trilogy. To be perfectly honest I did attempt to read this book when it first debuted in 2011. But I just couldn't do it. I got maybe halfway through before I gave up.
Now that the movie version has just been released, I resolved to read the entire book before I saw the film. And my review can be summed up in a single sentence:
This book woudn't be so bad if everything about it was completely different.
Don't get me wrong: I love erotica. I've been reading it since I was a teenager. For me, good erotica should be fun, sexy, and titillating. Unfortunately, Fifty Shades is not any of those things.
Let's start with the two main characters: Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. Ana is the most naive character I have ever come across. She doesn't seem to know anything about sex. She's never kissed anyone, touched herself, touched anyone else, or even had a wet dream. I'm not against innocent, virginal characters but this is just ridiculous. In the 21st century, even if you're a virgin, it is almost impossible to go through puberty without at least thinking about sex. Sex is everywhere in our culture. The only explanation for Ana's innocence is that she time-traveled from an earlier era. Like the Victorian era.
But of course, that all changes once she meets billionaire bad boy Christian Grey. Now I know that there are a lot of women (and I'm sure some men too) who think Mr. Grey is the epitome of the tortured, romantic male hero. I just don't get it. He's misogynistic, abusive, controlling, and emotionally unavailable. Everything is about him and his needs. Ana spends the entire book trying to please him, trying to figure out how to give him what he wants and he never seems to consider her needs at all. She protests the expensive gifts that he's giving her; he tells her she's overthinking things and should just be appreciative. She wants to have a serious discussion; he shuts down or distracts her by fucking her brains out instead.
I'd like to point out that I have nothing against the BDSM community or people who like to experiment with their sexuality and express themselves in different ways. But this book is not about that. A sexual relationship between two (or more) adults should always be consensual. In Fifty Shades, Ana is unsure about the kind of lifestyle that Christian is into but she tries it because she wants to be with him and she's decided that it's the only way she can be with him. She's not doing it because she wants to. It seems Christian always has to coerce her into it. He says that she can walk away at anytime, but when she thinks she might leave (or even jokes about leaving) he immediately shows up and fucks her into submission.
As far as plot goes, there really isn't one. It's basically Ana trying to decide what kind of relationship she wants to have with Christian and crying a lot because Christian doesn't care what she wants or needs. Oh, and there are a lot of repetitive sex scenes that aren't sexy. There was maybe one that I liked.
The only thing that kept me reading was Ana's laughably bad inner monologue (or should I say dialogue since it consisted of her, Ana's 'subconscious', and her inner goddess.) But even the entertainment factor of the bad writing isn't enough to cover up the fact that this is a book about a woman being emotionally and physically abused by an emotionally stunted asshole. After a while it stops being funny and just becomes depressing.
I will go see the movie because I am intrigued to see how this story will translate onto the big screen. And I will probably read the other two books in the series out of curiosity. Love it or hate it, Fifty Shades has become a cultural phenomenon and I think it's important to explore the message that this book sends out to readers.