So I’ve read 50 Shades of Grey. Or rather, I’ve read the original Twilight fanfic that became 50 Shades of Grey.
It started out as a kind of challenge from @stavvers and @pitandpendulum along the lines of “how far can you get before you ragequit?”, and being a stupid poopyhead, I foolishly decided to take up this challenge.
Roughly three days later, I had emerged. And not better off.
As many of you reading may already be aware, this book has problems. I know there are going to be those that will tell me that I’m not part of it’s target audience, that it’s “not for me”, but to be quite honest the main problems this book has transcends simply not being my cup of tea. These are problems that are not endemic to any particular genre, and as this thing has apparently sold so well, I feel it’s only fair that it gets a stream-of-consciousness type critiquing from an inconsequential guy on the internet.
(*SPOILER ALERT*: The inconsequential guy on the internet is me.)
Exploring the book’s erotic themes and idea of gender and sexuality has likely been done to death, and I don’t feel qualified to talk about that stuff anyway. So instead, I’m going to look at it from a literary perspective, because that’s more my forté as yet another cockstain on the internet with delusions of being a writer (or ‘lexomancer’ as I would prefer to be known).
So let’s get this rambly, sort-of review train a-rollin’!
*WARNING: This post contains spoilers for 50 Shades of Grey. Y’know, if you care. Which if you’re reading this is very doubtful. Also, once again, any information is accurate for the original fanfiction, so if any of it is inaccurate in regard the book itself, contact me and I’ll see how few fucks I can give.*
First off, I’d just like to point out that the thing that became 50 Shades, despite being called a Twilight fanfiction, actually isn’t really. The names are all there, yes, and the setting is kinda sort-of similar geographically, but otherwise it bears no similarity to Twilight whatsoever. “Edward Cullen” (Christian Grey) isn’t a vampire, he’s just some rich guy with a BDSM fetish, and at no point does the topic of vampirism even come up. “Bella Swann” (Ana Steele) is just some bland, characterless… ok so there’s some similarity, but still my point remains. It’s like some kind of weird anti-plagiarism, where rather than stealing text and changing the names, they’ve stolen the names and changed the text.
The main issue I have with the whole thing is that it’s dull. Dull dull dull. The whole thing is roughly 760 pages of… well… nothing much. Large chunks of text are used to establish stuff that has already been firmly established (Grey is wealthy and likes to be in control of every little thing. He has kinky tastes. Ana is not sure if want. She is naive and inexperienced in all matters sexual. They love each other very much. Grey is wealthy and etc etc etc). In the begining, the plot seems to gradually waddle into a kind of narrative status quo, and then seems terrified of moving an inch away from it, never really going anywhere, let alone anywhere worth going.
You’ll occasionally get indications that something is going to happen, but nothing really comes from it. For example, a whole plot point is brought up about one of Grey’s mentally ill ex-subs called Lauren, who has recently obtained a gun and is stalking our intrepid protagonists. This important sounding development is vaguely foreshadowed, crops up and is promptly forgotten a few times, and then when it finally comes to a head… the whole thing is resolved pretty much offscreen. There is a brief hint that the implications of this whole episode will have some effect on Grey and Ana’s relationship, but then it doesn’t. It amounted to little more than some minor bickering to fill up a few pages.
Meanwhile earlier in the story, Grey gives Ana a belting (literally), causing her to break up with him, upset at the idea that he’s getting a big ol’ stiffy from seeing her humiliated and debased. This looks like it could be something major to shake up the plot, but soon enough we’re back to our old friend status quo as they get back together with renewed interest in each other. The book treats this as the major turning point of Grey’s character, but there’s nothing to really indicate this. He doesn’t really seem different that afterwards, and the thing that the subplot seems to set up, namely Grey’s ability to enjoy a sex life that doesn’t necessarily include beatings and humiliation and stuff and junk, was already set in motion well before this thing occurs: not long after meeting Ana, he’s perfectly willing to try vanilla, kink-free sex for the first time with absolutely no convincing needed, and is perfectly fine with it.
Also established early is Ana’s friend Jose and his love for her. At first it seems like there may be a love triangle brewing to make the love story more interesting, if cliché (made more apparent in that Jose’s name in the original fanfiction is Jacob), but it gets established almost as early that his love is unrequited, and that this subplot, much to your surprise I’m sure, is going absolutely nowhere. Jose pops up a few more times after that, but he’s mostly just something to highlight how crazy jealous and overprotective Grey is.
The worst example, however, is the “Ana might be pregnant” subplot. It plays out like this:
Gynaecologist: “Ana, you haven’t been taking your pill. YOU MAY BE PREGNANT.”
Ana: “Oh no! Oh shit! What am I going to do? What am I going to tell Christian? Oh fuck!”
Gyn: “Not really lol”
Ana: “Oh snap you got me.”
This is barely exaggeration. This… ‘plot development’ is solved in literally paragraphs and is never mentioned again. There is some buildup (repeatedly pointing out that Grey doesn’t like condoms and Ana having trouble remembering to take the pill various times for example) but, like pretty much everything in this story, it goes absolutely nowhere.
Obviously I could go on, but I’m already starting to worry that this is becoming just as tiresome and repetitive as the very thing I’m critiquing, so let’s move on to characterisation!
Or lack thereof.
Characterisation is, of course, sub-par, but not quite as bad as you would expect. Although I did touch on it earlier, it may surprise you to learn that there is in fact a character arc in this book. Just the one mind, but y’know, baby steps. The Grey at the start of the book is a somewhat different character from the Grey at the end of the book. The inevitable problem, however, is that, despite the book trying to convince you otherwise, there is no real indication that this character development is really occurring, and it’s not due to subtlety. As mentioned, already he changes his tact when he’s barely met Ana, and doesn’t really change further a substantial amount for the rest of the book. Sometimes it really feels that you could essentially shuffle the scenes of this book around randomly, and it would still largely make sense.
As far as the other characters, they’re satellites. All Ana’s friends and family are little more than bland non-characters who have little point to their existences other than how they relate to her, ditto Grey’s family and him, though to a slightly lesser extent. Ana herself is essentially a satellite to Grey, as not long after she meets him, pretty much everything she says, thinks or does relates to him in some way. I’m sure there are people who will argue that this shows how important he is to her, and the sheer magnitude of his presence in her life owing to his domineering, controlling personality, but really it comes across more that she’s simply bland and characterless.
As for the quality of the writing itself, it’s all rather repetitive, and very much adds to its dull, meandering tone. Tying into the whole overestablishment thing, you can be sure that you’ll never forget that Grey has long fingers and green eyes, because you’re going to be smacked round the face with that fact pretty much every time he’s in a scene. The concepts of “inner goddess” and “subconscious” as a kind of id vs. superego thing keeps getting mentioned again and again to the point of frustration. Large amounts of prose can be skimmed or even just ignored completely without anything being missed, the best example being the full BDSM contract Grey presents to Ana, replicated in full among the pages in all its tedious legalese glory.
The sex scenes, arguably the main reason people read this poop-fest, also feel samey, and there were points where I literally began to wonder if they were being copy-pasted. To make matters worse, some of them breach the sacred, ultimate rule of writing, ‘show, don’t tell’, by having Ana as the narrator outright state that the scene you are reading is erotic. Thanks for clarifying, but if you have to outright state that, it tends to suggest the opposite.
To make matters worse, language-wise this book reaffirms my belief that all prospective writers should be banned from using a thesaurus, because, like all bad fiction, this book is rife with thesaurus abuse. “Loquacious” is a word that crops up, a word which you would rarely if ever hear in real-life dialogue. The term “cloying” is also used at one point to describe a smell, the phrase “that strange place in my medulla oblongata is firing synaptic impulses at me” exists, and various other examples pop up throughout the story, too numerous to list.
Also, and for some reason this one bugged me more than anything else the book threw at me, there seems to be this strange aversion to just describing something as red. In 50 Shades land, people don’t flush red (and they flush a lot), they flush crimson, scarlet, “the colour of my old truck” and in one case, “the colour of the Communist Manifesto”.
I wish I was making that last one up.
(The only thing, strangely enough, that is simply described as “red” is Grey’s playroom, called “The Red Room of Pain” in Ana’s internal narration. I’d wonder if there was any symbolism behind that, but then this book doesn’t have enough grasp on the concept of subtlety to knowingly pull off symbolism…)
Overall 50 Shades of Grey didn’t make me angry. It didn’t fill me with hate and it didn’t cause me to vomit until I started to puke blood, organs and regret. Because quite frankly, all that is a more emotional response than this book deserves. Hell, this whole blog post took some effort to write. If anything the book itself just made me kinda sad and bored. Because it is a sad and boring book, and that’s all it can ever hope to be.
It does, however, mentally wear you down the more you read. It is the literary equivalent of a high pitched tone. Even if you can withstand it initially, the dull, meandering plot that moves like apathetic molasses and is shit-scared of moving out of its little status quo comfort zone, shallow characterisation where it bothers to characterise at all, and directionless narrative will break you down much as this metaphor has broken down.
All in all, not recommended. If you’re that desperate for a wank that you would use this book to help you, maybe try the internet. I hear there’s porn on there these days.
The moral of this story, incidentally, is that @stavvers and @pitandpendulum are bad, awful people.