Monday, 3 March 2014

Book Review: Fifty Shades Of Grey, by E. L. James (2011)


A sex-drenched fantasy romance that tip-toes into the world of dominance and submission, Fifty Shades Of Grey caused a sensation and became an unlikely best seller. The book is a poorly written bore, and manages the unique feat of making even the sex passages tedious, a real problem when the book contains very little other than the sex passages.

Graduating university student Anastasia (Ana) Steele interviews young Seattle business tycoon Christian Grey. They are immediately attracted to each other, and the sex is frequent and furious. Christian had a troubled childhood, and as a result likes his sex on the kinky side. He wants Ana to enter into a formal dominant - submissive relationship with him. Ana is not sure that she wants to handle the lifestyle. As she mulls over the implications of the relationship, she graduates, looks for a job, gets to meet Christian's parents, and he meets her mother. And contract or not, they have plenty of sex, in every position, all locations, and at any time of the month.

E. L. James is not a bad writer; she is not a writer. Fifty Shades Of Grey has its origins in Twilight fan fiction, the literary equivalent of intentionally placing already putrid cheese in the sun for a few days. James' vocabulary is embarrassingly limited, and yet she somehow stretches the first volume of her story to 514 pages. Anastasia "blushes" once per page, she "bites her lip" every other page, and says to herself "Oh My!" every third page. She gets hot "down there!" and Christian "stills" when he "finds his release" at the end of each and every sex session. The book quickly becomes a nightmare of tired phrases repeated on an endless loop, with seemingly no attempt to at least find some new words to maintain interest.

Ana and Christian have nothing in common except physical lust. No common interests, no common background, no common dreams or aspirations, no common friends, no common hobbies, no common attitudes towards life. James cannot conjure up any reason for these two people to want to be together except that they cannot physically resist each other when they are in the same room. That they both start to think that this constitutes love pretty much sums up how pathetically lost the book is in its own fantasy.

The sex scenes start badly and descend into farce. Anastasia orgasms spectacularly three times in the very first sex session of her entire life, and proves to be automatically orgasmic to the point of making sex predictably mundane. When there is a prize behind every door, the thrill of exploration is pretty much shot. As for the bondage, dominance and submission aspects, they are more talked about - incessantly - than acted upon.

Fifty Shades Of Grey proceeds along a pretty steady downward trajectory, but arcs into a precipitous decline towards the limp climax. With James threatening to actually explore the characters and introduce a thin layer of depth, she instead manages to cram three more sex scenes into the final 40 pages of the book, a case of an author running away screaming when confronted with the need to provide context.

In amongst the flailing limbs, shared fluids and horrible prose, the attempt to find anything of value ends in fifty shades of abject failure.

514 pages.
Published in softcover by Vintage Books.






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