Book review: E. L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey”

Just in case you guys weren’t aware, “Fifty Shades of Grey”, E. L. James novel of billionaire Dominants and the women who love them, is really, really popular. Vintage bought it for a reported seven-figure sum, and Universal and Focus Features have bought the movie rights for an undisclosed amount of money. Which only means one thing:  big bucks.

And it’s a phenomena that hasn’t just been happening in the United States either. Here on our very own Catholic shores — where anti-RH Bill and anti-Anti-Gender Discrimination Bill Bienvenido Abante has been protesting the “satanic” Lady Gaga — the most scandalous erotica of the season is constantly out of stock. I just asked the customer service people at the National Bookstore in SM Manila and they could only find one copy — in Davao.

Obviously, this book has got everybody and their grandmothers hot and bothered. And since I am a notorious follower of fads with no mind of my own, I checked the book out to find out for myself what the buzz was all about.

“Fifty Shades of Grey” tells the story of virginal college student Anastasia “Ana” Steele, who thanks to her friendship with school paper editor Katherine Kavanagh, ends up interviewing the young business tycoon, Christian Grey. The attraction between the two is immediate, and Ana finds herself slowly drawn into the world of Christian Grey.

But what complicates matters is that Christian Grey isn’t just a 27-year-old multimillionaire: he’s also a practicing Dominant. With a variety of whips, floggers, and spreader bars in his Red Room of Pain, Christian Grey may just be a little more than Ana can handle.

But even with enough warnings sent her way and despite her own apprehensions about the lifestyle that Christian leads, Ana still finds himself unable to stay away from the enigmatic businessman. Will she be able to keep up with the dark desires that Christian revels in? Or will she find herself unable to literally bear the pain?

If there’s one thing that’s been trumpeted about this book throughout the different media outlets in the United States, it is it’s supposedly salacious content and its BDSM (Bondage, Dominance, and Sadomasochism) sex scenes. As such, I started reading this novel with the expectation that I would be treated to something along the lines of Anne Rice’s classic “Sleeping Beauty” series.

That may have been a mistake, because the book barely treads into the dark depths of BDSM, if at all. There’s a bit of spanking — with a hand, a flogger, and a belt — as well as one scene involving a spreader bar, but it’s all pretty much on the tame side. Which pretty much meant that I was really, really disappointed for about 500+ pages.

There’s also the fact that for a book with a title that plays on ambiguity, much of the views towards sex and sexual play in “Fifty Shades of Grey” tended to be in black and white. Rather than treating BDSM play as just another bullet point in two consenting adults’ sexual repertoire, James seems intent on painting it as something one needs to be saved from, something representative of a broken personality. In the universe James present to us, being a sexual outsider automatically equates to not being able to love.

For a book that’s tagged as “erotic romance”, complete with a “For Mature Readers” warning on the back cover, “Fifty Shades of Grey” is also quite prudish about coming out and just calling reproductive organs by their names. Of the many varied and colorful things that you could calla penis and a vagina, James decides to settle on “down there”. Are we 12-years-old?

The prose and the plotting isn’t anything to crow about either. Anybody who follows me on Twitter know all about my frustration with the constant repetition of “Oh my” sprinkled all throughout the text. The plot, or whatever it is you call it, is merely Ana and Christian having the same conversation over and over and over again in between the already sparse sex scenes.

If there’s anything that can explain its immense popularity at the moment, perhaps it’s the fact that “Fifty Shades of Grey” mines the same rich vein of wish fulfillment that “Twilight” and countless romance novels have been mining throughout the years. Here is a rich, handsome rake who inexplicably has eyes only for you, and you reform him through the power of twu wuv. It’s a heady feeling for someone to experience, and a trusted formula that hasn’t failed yet.


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15 thoughts on “Book review: E. L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey””

  1. There is a character in an anime I watched before who categorized people in two groups: masochists and saddists. At first I thought that’s too black and white but then again maybe he’s right. 🙂

  2. This is going to be part of the list of “book-turned-movie” soon. I believe they’ve already started casting the leads. What intrigues me is who’s gonna play Ana. 😉

  3. I love your review and I agree on the watered down sexual content and scenes depicted between Ana and Christian. What bothered me was the bad writing. The material has potential to soar and to go deep into the bowels of human nature, sex and personal demons all, but…it’s all fluff and stuff.

    Someone, please write a better version of 50 shades!

    1. Zarah! Nice to see you around these parts!

      There’s so much better erotica out there, better written and with better sex! It’s really a wonder why these books are the ones that are getting all the attention.

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