Or trilogy of books actually. I’m finally going to address the 800 pound gorilla in the room after I’ve fielded question after question from my internet pals, dental hygienist, the elementary school PTA treasurer, and pretty much every random acquaintance who knows I’m a writer and/or knows I review books, including erotic ones. What did I think of that Fifty Shades of Grey book(s)? Yes, I not only read the first one, but I managed to plow my way through all three, clearly proving that I’m a literary masochist, even if I’m not a sexual one.
Just in case you live in a cave, the book is a first person narrative of Anastasia Steele, a shy, smart, bookish girl who is inexperienced with romantic relationships. Ana is about to graduate college and hoping embark on a career at a publishing house in Seattle when she helps out her sick friend by interviewing hot, young, intimidating, megabucks Christian Grey for the university paper. Fifty Shades of Grey has all the trappings of a typical romance. Not-wealthy, virginal, beautiful-but-dowdy-dressed girl meets overpowering experienced man-who-has-everything-but-love. Except Christian Grey likes it kinky. Real kinky.
Like billions of other romances on the shelves, this one has the usual themes of how love helps both partners grow through compromise and caring. There are some enticing plot elements that accompany this character development. The series had a spark of a good light BDSM romance, but that spark drowned beneath a tsunami of repetitive prose, poor plot framework and distressingly slow character development.
Stuff where I say what all the other reviewers have said:
- General Writing Style – The book starts out intriguing enough, with the sexual tension between Ana and Christian evident. Then the reader is subjected to page after page of filler. It has nothing to do with the plot, the romance, nothing. Christian may have had a twitchy palm, but I had a seriously twitchy red pen. I wanted to slash at the book with my editing machete of death, then give it a good spanking.
The mediocre writing took a nosedive in books two and three with random flashbacks. There was no reference; scenes were just tossed in everywhere. Suddenly first person wasn’t enough and the reader in books two and three was subjected to prologues and epilogues in other point-of-views. This can work, but it was clearly an attempt to work around poor first person writing. Throughout book three, the writing continued to deteriorate until the book dwindled to random time jumping paragraphs containing short snippets of interaction between the two main characters.
- Plot – More limp than. . well, you know, something that shouldn’t be limp. Yes, there is a romance, but it’s unresolved and left hanging at the end of the first novel. There’s a sketchy conflict grid: Christian wants a very structured dom/sub relationship, Ana wants more, but the conflict blurs and wanders. Turning points were weak or non-existent, and when the crisis came at the end of the first novel, the resolution was not in keeping with the romance genre. No, I’m going to be honest and state there was no resolution. The rules of the ‘self-contained novel’ were thrown out the window and resolution doesn’t seem to come until the end of the trilogy.
The sub plots were just as perplexing. Details were scattered in so far apart that I often had forgotten about the sub plot and was lost as to what was going on. The plot framework has to be one of the worst I’ve seen. Well, except for that romance I DNF’d last week.
- Character Development – At one point Christian has Ana in the playroom he is subjecting her to ‘denied release’. I thought this was oddly symbolic. Christian or Anna would be on the razor’s edge of an important character breakthrough, then Christian would derail the whole thing via sex, or Ana would go off on a tangent and they’d be right back where they started. This happened again, and again, and again. Some major issues were NEVER resolved, even after the million page trilogy finally finished. I, the reader, felt very frustrated in my own personal ‘denied release’. And, yes, I had a strong urge to take matters into my own hands with my trusty non-vibrating red pen, but I have my own books to write. Christian did grow. Ana did grow. But the growth was disappointingly tiny after all the build-up. And honestly, it shouldn’t have taken a million page trilogy to get there.
The stuff you really want to know about:
- SEX –I’ll admit I’ve got a love for BDSM erotica, and I hoped Fifty Shades of Grey would at least excel in this area. When Christian first introduced Ana to his playroom, I was thrilled by the tantalizing possibilities held therein. And there is some good kinky stuff. Those readers who don’t often stray from vanilla (mainstream) sex will be shocked and titillated. Those who are more experienced in the BDSM world will yawn. There’s spanking, moderate bondage, control, light sexual punishment, and delayed/denied release, but it’s surrounded by a whole lotta vanilla. The one moderate punishment scene with the belt has horrible repercussions. Christian drastically compromises to accommodate Ana’s inability to participate in some of his most favorite sexual activities, and Ana does try to experiment and broaden her horizons.
I found it all kind of sad. The BDSM lifestyle is so often portrayed as deviant, and pathological, the participants either psychologically broken, or bizarre characters that inspire ridicule. Yes, relationships require compromise, and sometimes that compromise involves the frequency of and parameters surrounding sex, but I truly want to see a novel where BDSM is treated fairly. Where it’s good kinky fun between two consenting partners. Where the consenting partners are nice normal people without severe childhood trauma driving their choice of sexual enjoyment. The novel touches briefly on the idea that Christian’s interests are “normal”, but so much of the book centers around his terrible psychological issues, that any normalcy is buried.
The writing is terrible. The sex scenes on every page quickly became repetitions and unbelievable. It didn’t portray BDSM in a favorable light outside of the mild kink. Maybe the books will cause some couples to put all those unworn neckties to good use. Or maybe they’ll all just giggle about it at the next kid’s playdate. Either way, I felt the urge to take the books and cane them severely. Safe-word severely.