Fifty Shades of Grey Review: Part Two, where the characters “gasp” entirely too often.

Ah, we made it. Here we are, part two. I have a confession to make. It was hard to read this book. Not because I am illiterate, but because reading this book made me angry. About halfway through this book I stopped reading it from a funny, “We’re writing a blog review! Yay!” perspective, and started reading it from an, “indignant feminist” perspective.

I went to google and image searched the term “angry feminist”. This is the stock photo it gave me. I’m confused.

 I’m going to try my best to give my review from the first perspective, or else this is going to turn into a serious analysis essay for a College Women’s Studies Class. Seriously, I could probably write a book about all of the psychological issues in this novel. But now is not the time for that! Now is the time for giggling and funny pictures!

First of all, let me give you the general synopsis:

Anastasia Steele is an innocent young woman who is just graduating from college when she meets Christian Grey, a rich young business man who has, (as the back of the book says) “singular erotic tastes”.  The book unfolds as they try to balance Ana’s innocence and need for a meaningful relationship with Christian’s strange tastes and difficulty with intimacy. That’s my back of the book description. Here is my real, honest description:

Fifty Shades of Grey is what would happen if Bella Swan and Edward Cullen from Twilight tried a BDSM relationship. Ana spends most of the book blushing and gasping, while Christian stares broodingly at her. Occasionally there is sex.

You know what would make us more interesting? Whips and orgasms.

What’s that you say, Edward and Bella from Twilight are in this book? Surely not! Oh surely yes. While I was doing research on the book for this blog I discovered that Fifty Shades of Grey was originally begun as an online Twilight fan fiction. After it became popular the author moved it to her own website, and it snowballed from there until it became the scandalous sensation it is today. So yes, Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele were originally Edward Cullen and Bella Swan. And believe me, it shows.

I will give E.L. James credit for this one thing, her characters are exactly like Edward and Bella. If you know anything about the world of fan fiction you know that sometimes the stories can go horribly awry,and the characters are nothing like the original ones from the original series that you know and love. Not the case with this book. If you took the vampire element out of Twilight and added kinkiness in its place, Fifty Shades of Grey is just what it would look like.

There is a Harry Potter fan fiction where all of the characters are gothic. And vampires. And fans of the band Good Charlotte for some reason. Everyone just take a moment to let that sink in.

I’m going to break this review into three main parts, Characters, Plot and Sex, and my final impression of the novel. Let’s begin shall we?

Characters:

Anastasia Steele: First of all, she likes to be called Ana. She tells this to Christian, but he’s a jerk, so he proceeds to call her Anastasia for the whole book. She is a self described, “pale, brown-haired girl with blue eyes too big for her face.” Oh yes Ana, I’m sure your eyes are HIDEOUS. Women with dark hair paired with big blue eyes are always described as so repulsive.

Jesus Christ, someone get these women some bags to put over their heads!

She is a lot like Bella Swan from Twilight. She thinks she is totally unattractive, but men are swooning over her. Ana is pursued by every male character in this book, but she has to make us female readers feel bad by saying things like, “ I hardly ever wear make up- it intimidates me.”

Lucky for me, I don’t have that problem.

She also never eats. Every time she is with Christian in this novel they sit down to eat at some point and she is never hungry. She is so mystified by his presence that she no longer needs to provide her body with fuel. I’m not joking, this happens in the novel at least five times.

Being too intimidated by men to eat is also NOT a condition that I suffer from.

She has no discernible personality traits, so she is very easy to remove from the narrative, and replace with yourself. That’s one of my theories as to why Twilight is so popular. Bella is so generic that it is very easy to fantasize yourself being in her circumstances.  “I am clumsy and ordinary, but someday someone extraordinary will love me passionately.” All girls have self esteem issues, we all think we are clumsy, we all worry that we aren’t attractive enough, so the idea that a (perfect) man would be interested in us is mind boggling and amazing. That is Ana Steele.

Christian Grey: He is a (well, he is supposed to be)  multi-faceted character, with many talents and problems, who Ana literally calls, “Fifty Shades of Fucked Up.”   (I guess the play on words is supposed to be clever, and it would be, if the author didn’t reuse the phrase 100 times.) Christian Grey is the owner of a highly successful, multi-million dollar company at the ripe old age of 27. Because that totally happens in real life.

All CEOs

He is good at everything, except being a decent human being. He’s a jerk, but we’ll get to that part later. About the being good at everything; any hobby, or skill, or activity that is mentioned in the book, he is always good at it:

“I’ve been a fully qualified pilot for four years Anastasia.”

“Christian is at the piano, completely lost in the melody he’s playing. His playing is stunning. Leaning against the wall at the entrance, I listen, enraptured. He’s such an accomplished musician.”

“What have you two been doing up here?” “Showing Anastasia my rowing trophies.”

I could continue to give you examples, but reading them honestly makes me start to throw up in my mouth a little bit. Long story short, he is an accomplished business man with an entire financial army at his disposal; he is generously endowed downstairs if you know what I mean,

In Ana’s wide eyed, gaspy words, “It’s so big and growing!”

He can speak fluent French, he was an excellent rower, and he is gifted at lovemaking. Some of these talents are just listed as afterthoughts.

I dabbled in being an astronaut in between my Noble Peace Prize work and my second Olympics.

So basically he’s 27 with the list of accomplishments of a 75 year old, with the looks of a dashing young supermodel, and the temper of raging bull. Seriously, Ana will like, blink at him, and he’s all, “Time to spank you for being defiant!!!”(because yes, Christian’s favorite thing to do is spank Ana) That is Christian.

Now that I’ve introduced you to the characters, let’s move on to the actual novel.

Sexy times, and what can loosely be called the plot:

The way these two people manage to hook up with each other is the most bizarre thing I have ever read.  The book begins with Ana interviewing Christian Grey for her school newspaper. She thinks that he is breathtakingly attractive, and he is struck by her as well. After that they have a few follow up meetings, where she blushes a lot and says absolutely nothing of interest. After a boring coffee date, Christian feeds her the typical bad boy line, “Anastasia, you should steer clear of me. I’m not the man for you.”(Seriously, he actually says this to her)

Things finally take a turn towards the more serious when Ana calls him after she gets drunk at a bar, and he arrives to watch her vomit into a bush, and then pass out in his arms. For some reason, this makes him decide to approach her about entering into a sexual relationship with him. He takes her, drunk and unconscious, back to his penthouse and puts her to bed. And when I say, “puts her to bed” I don’t mean it in the “wink wink, nudge nudge” sense, I mean that he puts her in his bed with a pair of advil on the table and a trashcan located close by for easy vomit access. So after Christian witnesses this woman at her worst, he decides that he must have her.

Pictured above: Desirable and endearing.  

Ana meanwhile, is not bothered at all about basically being kidnapped, and agrees to meet Christian the next night to discuss their relationship. He admits to being attracted to her, but tells her that he won’t touch her until he has “written permission to do so.”

I know what you’re all thinking though, “Where is the sex Tara!? We were promised a lot of wild sex from this book, why else is everyone talking about it!?” I am right there with you. By page 100 there was still no scandalous sex, and I had to endure bad writing like this:

While showing Christian around the hardware store she works at: “With my heart almost strangling me-because it’s in my throat trying to escape from my mouth-I head down one of the aisles to the electrical section.”

Also at the hardware store: “His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel…or something.”

After waking up in Christian’s apartment after the night of drinking: “I eye Christian’s toothbrush, I feel the bristles on the toothbrush. They are damp. He must have used it already. Grabbing it quickly, I squirt toothpaste on it and brush my teeth in double time. I feel so naughty, it’s such a thrill.”

Oh i’m sure Christian would agree.Nothing says “thrill” like sharing a toothbrush with someone who just spent the previous night vomiting after an episode of binge drinking.

Finally, after 100 pages and 6 chapters of Ana blushing a lot, and Christian glaring a lot, the subject of sex finally comes up. Christian reveals that he is a sadist, looking for a masochist to share his lifestyle. A dominant, searching for a submissive. He shows her his play room which Ana dubs, “The Red Room of Pain”. In it, there are chains, ropes, shackles, whips, canes, paddles, and all sorts of other implements designed to cause pain. Christian explains that he is a dominant, and that he gains sexual pleasure from punishing his submissive when she misbehaves. He asks Ana to sign a contract that states that she will be his submissive for a period of three months. It is at this point that everything comes screeching to a halt, because Ana reveals that she is a virgin.  Because of this, Christian agrees to “vanilla sex”, to ease her into the world of sex slowly.

So FINALLY on page 119, they do the great deed. It occurred to me at this point that it might be good to listen to the audio book of Fifty Shades of Grey. It might be more arousing to listen to a woman’s sultry voice describing these scenes than actually reading them. So I went to itunes and listened to the sample excerpt. The girl they chose to do the audio book sounded like she was 12. Literally. So instead, I’ll post photos of celebrities with memorable voices, and you can read these sultry romantic scenes with their voice in your head.

Morgan Freeman: “I’m going to fuck you now, Miss Steele,” he murmurs as he positions the head of his erection at the entrance of my sex. “hard”, he whispers, and he slams into me. “Aargh!” I cry as I feel a weird pinching sensation deep down inside me as he rips through my virginity.”

Rosanne Barr: “I pull him deeper into my mouth so I can feel him at the back of my throat. He’s my very own Christian Grey-flavored popsicle. Hmm…I had no idea giving pleasure could be such a turn-on, watching him writhe subtly with carnal longing.”

Gilbert Gottfried: “Anal intercourse doesn’t exactly float my boat.” “I’ll agree to the no fisting, but I’d really like to claim your ass Anastasia. But we’ll wait for that. Besides, it’s not something we can dive into. Your ass will need training.”

Christian and Ana have lots of sex. In the bed, in the bathtub, in the shower, in his parents boathouse, on top of a desk, but it’s really all the same. They both have explosive orgasms every time. I’m going to be honest with you, I thought the sex was pretty tame for a BDSM erotic novel. He’s supposed to be a sadist, but he only goes as far as spanking her a few times, and using a riding crop on her in the “red room of pain”. Finally, at the end of the novel Ana asks for Christian to show her how painful it can get, and how intense he can be. He spanks her really hard, and this makes her realize that she is not cut out to be submissive, and she leaves him. The end.

General impressions:

I did not enjoy this novel. You might be able to tell from how long it took me to post part two of this review(I apologize profusely for the delay!)  If you read reviews of this book online you will find out that a lot of people complain about the poor writing. For instance, one amazon.com reviewer counted, and posted this about the various overused phrases in the novel, “I have discovered that Ana says “Jeez” 81 times and “oh my” 72 times. She “blushes” or “flushes” 125 times, including 13 that are “scarlet,” 6 that are “crimson,” and one that is “stars and stripes red.” (I can’t even imagine.) Ana “peeks up” at Christian 13 times, and there are 9 references to Christian’s “hooded eyes,” 7 to his “long index finger,” and 25 to how “hot” he is (including four recurrences of the epic declarative sentence “He’s so freaking hot.”). Christian’s “mouth presses into a hard line” 10 times. Characters “murmur” 199 times, “mutter” 49 times, and “whisper” 195 times (doesn’t anyone just talk?), “clamber” on/in/out of things 21 times, and “smirk” 34 times. Christian and Ana also “gasp” 46 times and experience 18 “breath hitches,” suggesting a need for prompt intervention by paramedics. Finally, in a remarkable bit of symmetry, our hero and heroine exchange 124 “grins” and 124 “frowns”

So yes, the writing can be a bit annoying at times, but honestly that’s not really what bothered me. This is an erotic novel, brilliant prose isn’t really the point. It would be like complaining that the situations in porno movies are somewhat implausible.

Wait, you mean the repair man ISN’T going to ravish me on top of the washing machine?

What really bothers me about this book is the abusive relationship. Now when I say that, it’s not because of the dominance/submission sexual theme. Christian says at one point in the novel, “We are consenting adults and what we do behind closed doors is between ourselves.” And he has a point. If two consenting adults have a different view of what is erotic than I do, then who am I to judge? I have friends who are very free and open when it comes to their sex lives, and I have other friends who fully intend to wait until marriage before they have sex. I don’t really have a problem with either lifestyle, as long as people aren’t hurting one another. Emotionally.

That is the problem I have with this book. Christian is abusive and controlling. He tells Ana multiple times outside of the bedroom that she is “challenging” when she disagrees with him. He stalks her, tracking her cell phone and following her when she goes on a vacation to visit her mother. He buys her over the top gifts that she admits make her uncomfortable numerous times. He is fanatically jealous, becoming angry when she jokes about getting a massage from a handsome (gay) man, when she sees her friends from college, when she interacts with any other males, basically. He is very controlling, there is even one scene where he threatens to spank her because she does not let him finger her under the dining room table where they are eating dinner with his parents. As an explanation he says to her later, “No one’s ever said no to me before.” So…does that mean he’s raped women before, or we supposed to believe that this man is SO desirable that no woman has ever been able to turn him down? Christian tells her at the beginning of their arrangement that he is “not a hearts and flowers” kind of guy. That is the whole struggle of the book. Ana is inexperienced and wants a relationship, and Christian is an emotionally damaged man who wants someone for sex who he can control, absolutely.

The reason this book is popular is not because it branches into the taboo subject of S&M, because it doesn’t. Most of the sex scenes are very ordinary, no whips or chains involved. That’s the point, Christian is really the one that changes, not Ana. He tries to be a relationship guy for her.   Fifty Shades of Grey is popular because it falls into the same pattern and set up that many romantic comedies fall into:

Sweet girl meets bad boy. Bad boy seems irredeemable, and the two seem so totally different that things will never workout! But then the girl is so AMAZING,  and the bad boy falls SO in love with her,that she CHANGES him.

Want some examples? Here:

 This counts because Edward is a vampire. He is intensely attracted to her scent, his inner nature makes him want to eat her, to become an evil vampire, essentially. But instead he falls in love with her. She is so intriguing to him, that he decides to go against his inner nature, to CHANGE, and not kill her.

 Yes. Even this follows the bad boy theme. Rick is probably the ultimate reformed bad boy. Rick is closed off, he even says, “I stick my neck out for nobody.” Until his love Ilsa reforms him, and by the end of the movie he risks everything because of his love for her.

Should I go on? Do you need more examples? I’m not saying that every romance follows this formula, but a lot of them do. They are popular because women like to believe that even if we are ordinary, someone extraordinary will love us enough to make any sacrifice. They are popular because we like to believe that men who have problems and commitment issues would set those aside because they love us so much. We want to believe that even though we are ordinary, we could be so EXTRAORDINARY to that one special person, that he would conquer any obstacle, physical or emotional, just to be with us.

I’m not going to say that it is unreasonable to want someone to love you just for being you. We all want that. It is unreasonable however to expect someone to change their entire character. The fact is that most bad boys are just bad boys. In real life they don’t change, they don’t start being nice to their girlfriends all of a sudden, and movies like those up there, and books like Fifty Shades of Grey teach women to have unrealistic expectations. Christian is abusive in this book and there is no excuse.

Luckily though, this book breaks new ground! Ana realizes at the end of the book that Christian is so different from her that he can never truly engage in an emotional commitment, and she tearfully bids him farewell. Finally! A book that really shows that people don’t really change, and that sometimes you have to just get out of an unhealthy relationship, and-

Just kidding. There are two sequels where they get back together. Dammit.

And that my friends, is my very LONG review. I apologize for the length, and the time it took to post it. After this I promise there will be many more posts. I’m just starting this blog, and it’s hard at times to get into a schedule for writing. I hope you enjoyed my thoughts on this book, and until next time, I am your girlish blunderer.

-Tara