50 Shades of Disappointment

Oh my, holy cow, oh my…

I recently had the great displeasure of reading Fifty Shades of Grey, a novel by E L James, which was previously published on Fanfiction.net under the name Snowqueen’s Icedragon (first off, are you kidding me? The name sounds like something the lead singer of a bad prog band would call his girlfriend). We’ve all heard about this new “trend” in erotic fiction. This “Mommy Porn.” This absolute bullshit.

For those of you who don’t know, Fifty Shades of Grey was originally a Twilight fanfiction. Yeah, the Twilight that set both sophisticated vampire fiction and feminism back about 100 years. When I first heard about Fifty Shades, I was fascinated. I even made a Facebook status about it, stating how impressed I was that the author was able to take something from the dregs of literary culture and turn it into something successful. Of course, this was before I read the damn thing.

The biggest lure of Fifty Shades, is obviously the sex, since it certainly has nothing else going for it. The “dark” side of sexual fantasy. I was expecting an unhindered leap into the deep and multi-faceted world of BDSM. How insulting. The book barely takes off its business socks to dip a pinky toe into the psychological and sexual phenomenon. For those who engage in hardcore BDSM, I can only imagine their horrified reactions to the book. Even I’m insulted and I own nothing more than a pair of pink metal handcuffs.

What Fifty Shades fails to recognize is the realistic emotional dance that occurs between two people during the beginning of either chaste courtship or intense sexual affair. Christian Grey is flat, full of the kind of angst that is typically resolved during the late adolescent years. How he’s managed to operate as the proto-typical, does-whatever-the-fuck-he-wants, multi-billionaire in this fictional world is beyond me. As for Ana… I once read Bella Swan described as “Pants” because she’s a character that anyone (read: prepubescent or repressed middle-aged woman) can slip into (http://theoatmeal.com/story/twilight). Ana is exactly the same, which only makes sense, seeing as she was only based on the best. She pretends to have a certain virgin feminism, but all she does is passively submit to the advances of man she’s met once, and then creepily stalked her at her JOB. If a man I’d awkwardly interviewed for a friend (and don’t even get me started on this “friend,” Katherine Kavanagh) showed up at my work in a city entirely separate from where I’d met him, I’d certainly not be inclined to have coffee with him.

All boring and flat characterization aside, Fifty Shades remains an utterly disappointing BDSM erotica novel. Christian warns his counterpart repeatedly about his predilection for violent sex. He does not “make love,” he “fucks.” Yeah right. I’ve read less vanilla sex in a Harlequin cowboy novel. Admittedly the sex is rough, and some would even consider it violent. Now, I don’t condone violence, but I doubt James has ever experienced any pain in her own sexual life. I feel as though she did a brief search of BDSM on Google and wrote based on the first few images that popped up.

If you care about reading the book (which I sincerely hope you don’t) you should skip over the next part, as it contains a few SPOILERS.

The novel ends with Ana demanding that Christian show her what it really means to be punished. First of all, you do not ASK to be punished, you simply ARE. This is a concept James does not seem to grasp, and consequently neither does Ana. Christian proceeds to spank her. Oh god, with a BELT! How primal! How unreservedly crude! She must have been in such demoralizing pain!

No. False. Fuck you.

Ana then, utterly shocked by his behavior, leaves Christian. Right. So not only is she a completely lifeless character, she’s also a complete idiot. The man wrote her a contract, for God’s sakes, the likes of which turned an entire chapter into something no more exciting than a bank statement. It spelled out quite explicitly what would be expected of her; he then encouraged her to do her own research, starting with Wikipedia (arguably the only hint of realism in the entire book). And yet, she’s still shocked? By a belt?  Please.

You can now start reading again if you skipped the spoilers.

Like I’ve said before, the author has no idea what she’s pretending to write about. Twilight’s conservative leanings – namely the restricting traditional themes of marriage -> sex -> babies (half-breed, mixed number of chromosome babies, but that’s a tirade that’s been done too many times before) – are based on the author’s own personal beliefs. Fifty Shades is bizarrely conservative, since it advertises sexual exploration. The sex scenes abound, but each feels more artificial and insignificant than the last.

So thank you E L James. Thank you for setting us back once again in the realm of sexual liberation. It’s not erotic, it’s downright insulting to anyone comfortable with their own sexuality. Don’t waste you time or your money on this book or any of its successors. What a useless 380 pages of crap.

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  1. Wow, this sounds like a uiquely underwhelming experience.

  2. I was not impressed by this book (or trilogy really as the ‘plot’ is stretched out over three chunky texts) either. Christian Grey is not the romantic hero I, or any other sane self-respecting woman, fantasises about. He’s controlling, petulant and childish.

    • The worst part is that it romanticizes sexism and misogyny masquerading as “love” and “devotion.” It’s awful.

      • I wonder, what is it that makes it such a successful book? The sex scenes are badly written and about as erotic as a wet blanket. The BDSM is tame by anyone’s standards and I can’t see any originality or ground-breaking themes – it’s all been written about before and much more skilfully at that.

      • No kidding. I think it’s popular just because people (women) who read it and enjoy it are wet blankets themselves and think reading something “naughty” and “alternative” makes them seem more sophisticated. To them I say, go read “The Story of O” then tell me you still want to make REAL BDSM a part of your life. As always, there are different levels of involvement in the lifestyle, from dabbling too hardcore. But 50 Shades doesn’t even really try.

        This sums it up well: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/340987215

  1. Fifty Shades of Gray Through the Eyes of a Divorcee « lessonsfromtheendofamarriage

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