Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey (2011)

Author: E L James (former TV executive)
Genre: erotic romance / adult fantasy
Reviewer Age Rating: 16+ (adult language, sexual content)


When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Chrisitan Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating.  The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him.  Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.

Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates.  For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control.  When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.

Word of Mouth

If this #1 New York Times Bestseller could be summed up in a word it would be: flawed.

I got into it but for three reasons:
1. I had nothing better / more entertaining to read.
2. I heard that it was poorly written.
3. I am hypersexual. It warms my cockles entertains me much at times.  (I laugh.)

So… Where do I begin?  Flawed.  Right.
It doesn’t meet up with expectations or even the second part of the blurb, entirely.
Still, it’s not horrible.


At first it rolls off the tongue with reasonably real characters, Anastasia Steele and Katherine Kavanagh, two characters just finishing college, students in their early twenties, the rabbit-pattern jammies, etc.  Ana is shy and reserved, with brown hair and a taste for Twinings English Breakfast tea; Kate is a strawberry-blonde reporter, always able to sense something and draw it out of people (the Kavanagh Inquisition).

Kate is sick, so Ana volunteers to do the interview.  So far, so good.

Already, we’re introduced to the characters in Ana’s head—herself, her subconscious, the goddess, all at odds—oh, the infighting, with an obvious sense of humor.

See?  Not here to find you at all, my subconscious sneers at me, loud, proud, and pouty.  I flush at my foolish, wayward thoughts.” (p.26)

“I flush at the waywardness of my subconscious—she’s doing her happy dance in a bright red hula skirt at the thought of being his.”  (p.67)

Then, in small but exaggerated varying degrees, Ana is feeling so many things for the first time…and that’s when the unreal elements start popping up.

Imperfectly Perfect

First, when self-proclaimed “mousey” Ana is subbing for Kate, interviewing Christian Grey, she is turned on—like others, at his beauty—like clockwork, never failing to flush, in all the sharp swings of facial expressions.  For days.  And then, it’s like Ana has been living under a rock for twenty-one years.

“I’m squirming with a needy, achy . . . discomfort.  I don’t understand this reaction.  Hmm . . . Desire.  This is desire.  This is what it feels like.” (p.68)

So, we somehow have an intelligent college student that’s unfamiliar with relatively basic emotions and concepts below her age group, despite her required reading level?  Reading what?  Tess of d’Ubervilles.

Finally, we find out that Grey is a Dominant.  So in summary, he’s a multi-billionaire, with the Audis and the helicopter(s), running an enterprise with impossibly giant buildings, an impossibly giant pocket book to spend on expensive toys, anything…  He has an eclectic taste and knowledge in never-fail music that includes Kings of Leon, and he’s well-endowed, maturely sexually experienced in BDSM (S&M)—all at age 27.

So from Ana’s perspective, missing the point, he’s just…imperfectly perfect.
To make matters even more unlikely, Kate falls for Elliot, Christian’s brother.

And who can miss the underdeveloped ‘Hispanic’ photographer friend named José, and his “Dios mío! Ana!”  Uttered several times.  Like a catchphrase.

No doubt, Ana will try to manage the “relationship,” trying to escape every now and then, even drinking Cosmos with her mother in Georgia at one point.  But in her cries of pain, falling in love with Christian, her earlier messages draw him back to her, every time.

Nevertheless, it’s a novel that it ties up its elements; every point and turn amounts to something that draws “the couple” closer, including a meeting of the parents…unfortunately without panties.  Ana is always mortified.

Inarticulate Thoughts“Ground, swallow me up now!” (p.18)

Oh, there are so many oh nos, oh mys, Holy craps, and Holy fucks—strewn all over.

In one relatively small paragraph alone (p.58), all of the italics, in order are as follows (not kidding): “Holy crap.” … “Oh no.” … “Hmm . . . tequila.

When Grey makes a food analogy on individual taste, Ana thinks:
We’re talking about cheese . . . Holy crap.” (p.103)

Oh, shit . . . how long is this going to last?” (p.60)  I see…514 pages.  That’s how long.

First person and clean, you can’t help but notice the immaturity in Ana’s accounting of events, in often short expressional sentences, like a text-based video game.  Everything Grey does is ‘hot,’ and everything he offers is ‘delicious’ or ‘divine,’ including his ‘impressive length’—“Oh, the fullness” (p.328).  Not every paragraph, but…you’ve no idea.

“The chicken caesar is delicious. … The wine is crisp, clean, and fruity.” (p.317)

“Cranberry and sparkling water.  Hmm . . . it tastes delicious and quenches my thirst.” (p.332)

“He tastes divine.” (p.348)

“Christian Grey has a sad side.” (p.124)
(Oh, yes, the copper-haired Grey had also learned to play the piano at a young age.)

These are her thoughts?  She’s supposed to be literate and independent, finishing college!

Not For Children…sort of“Shit.  I groan . . . how can I feel this there?” (p.114)

The novel may be “NC-17” in its sexual content—literarily intense (not too explicit), with Grey gingerly biting at nipples ’n’ such, sending sensations…down there.  But you still can’t help but laugh.  It’s so childish in its construction that it can seem as mature as a cartoon, the way things reset.  Without fail, both Steele and Grey can ‘get it up’ every time, any time…also collapsing almost every time.  There is no biological come-down, no chemical resistance, and all the climaxes are described in terms ‘shattering into a million pieces,’ earth-shattering, spirally, etc.  And somehow, Ana the virgin is already skilled.

It may carry a bit of intelligence, using numerous technical facts (researched), but entirely all consequence in the novel boils down to the pending emotional damage.  That’s oversimplified adult fantasy for ya’.  Less knowledge and wisdom on life, more chapters you can expect to find mainly trying to touch you…there.  And then Christian Grey collapses on top of you, and you pass out soundly.

Emotional Draw

It may have deliberate humor, with the emails (“SHOUTY CAPITALS”), but so much of the book is unintentionally funny—almost a comedy.  That is, until the joke gets old, and it can become a sort of agony attempting to read the rest of it through.

It is only by the end that you can finally feel for the immature characters.  Once the onion has unraveled, Ana is hugging Charlie Tango—the balloon modeled after Grey’s EC135 Eurocopter.  She “followed her heart”…after overthinking things, throughout the story.

And so, like any commercial trilogy, it leaves you hanging, needing, lusting, desiring the sequel, Fifty Shades Darker.  And maybe the third, Fifty Shades Freed.  (What a title.)  Come to think of it, there are a few typos in this 2012 Vintage Books edition, including “,.”

In all, it’s readable if you have the time and sense of humor to laugh at your own groans.  And then it’s back to why am I reading this, again?  It’s no doubt entertaining.  But I wouldn’t entertain the idea of reading it all over again, unless to a crowd looking for humor.  At least it made me laugh hard, and groan, and feel a little…something.  At least it helped improve my vocabulary, with words like profligate and foyer.  At least it reminds me that novels have a plot, with detail and structure.  And that people have emotions.

Yes, people have emotions.

“I think I feel a little faint. I take another sip of wine. Alcohol—this will make me brave.” (p.104)

Oh, I can’t wait for the non-funny R-rated theatrical version (obviously cutting down a lot).  And by “can’t wait,” I mean I will make no real effort to see it.
Next: This is Where I Leave You (finished reading), and Gone Girl (2012)

And for anyone interested in further exploring the ridiculous nature of the writing of this book, and how many times someone flushes or murmurs or rolls his/her eyes, cocks his/her head, Rebecca had posted her take in 2012 with all the counts, to the point of suggesting that the characters had disease(s).  Googly Eye disease.  And yes, it took me two years to put up the link (the new editor is not better!).

2 thoughts on “Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

  1. I read this one, and didn’t feel like I needed to read the next two. It was entertaining, I will give it that. I will probably wait for the video! Gone Girl, I’m going to see. That book I really liked. I’ll have to see what you say about that one.


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