Fifty Shades of Grey

2 Aug

I have to admit to reading all three books in the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy – I was asked by a friend to give a critique of both the writing and the storyline – and so one day I spent a good four or five hours in the coffee shop at Waterstones reading the three books (for free). Or rather, skim reading them.

I feel I should also point out I have no experience of a genuine BDSM relationship although I have read a lot about it because the idea intrigues me and research, well I write a lot. My experience extends as far as bondage, mild spanking and one partner taking control and that is it so far. I also prefer to read about a dominant male because I quite like the idea of men being men, something which I find is severely lacking in real life.


My honest opinion? Okay here goes…

1. The excessive descriptive writing in the first 196 pages before I started skimming annoyed me. Instead of writing ‘a smartly dressed blonde receptionist’ you would find (and I can’t remember the exact words) ‘a tall, slim, elegant girl, no more than 24 with long, straight, glossy, immaculately groomed, platinum blonde hair and wearing an expensive, perfectly pressed skirt suit, stockings and 3inch black, patent leather high heels, her nails exquisitely manicured in the palest of pale pink French polish and her smooth, alabaster skin as unblemished as a baby’s was sitting behind the highly polished, solid oak receptionists desk, which reflected the soft, warm glow of the sun through the sparklingly clean glass window’. It detracted from the storyline if I’m honest because most of the time these descriptions were about minor characters in the book and also I prefer the ‘show not tell’ style of writing. If the receptionist is a polished snob then show me her acting snobby, don’t tell me how much of a snob she is, let me draw my own conclusions and sympathise with the character for the way she’s being treated.

2. The book seemed to be written in such a way (see above) as to stretch over three books instead of one and each book seemed overlong. Quite frankly, the story did not flow well, partly because of the superfluous words and partly because of the neverending cutesy little email exchanges, which is why I ended up skim reading it through frustration.

3. The basic storyline seemed ripped directly from that of a Mills & Boon Modern scenario. Innocent virgin meets fabulously wealthy but damaged/jaded/cynical man and falls in love. After some conflict, man realises he loves her too and everyone lives happily ever after.

4. The sex scenes again seemed based on the Mills & Boon type genre writing, where euphemisms are used to save the readers sensibilities and sex is described in flowery descriptive language. Sometimes this works. Stretching the same repetitive phrases over three books just gets boring.

5. The male character was not coherent. For someone who claimed never to have ever had ‘vanilla’ sex, he seemed to spend a fair amount of the book doing just that, with the occasional lapse where he allowed his anger to take control and it slipped into what the critics are calling ‘domestic abuse’. I can accept the fact that someone initially trained as a submissive might then become the dominant party or even switch between roles but if you’ve never known anything but a BDSM relationship, surely suddenly having cuddly, vanilla sex would be as difficult as jumping from a purely vanilla life into BDSM?

I get that he’s still trying to be controlling in her life outside the bedroom but that strikes me as more of the Mills & Boon stereotypical alpha male rather than the relationship between a dominant and a submissive.

6. I can see the point of view of the people who say ‘this is just abuse’ and ‘this is not a BDSM lifestyle’. It strikes me that the author has incorporated elements of BDSM, the controlling male dominant and the ‘punishment’ side predominantly, and failed to recognise the whole picture.

A man who spanks/whips/beats his woman ‘because he is angry and can’t help himself, but he’s abjectly sorry afterwards’ is a whole world different from a controlled punishment, administered with love and respect, often engineered by the submissive with some small act of rebellion because they want to be punished and with the understanding that the dominant is giving a lesson, as such, and not just releasing his frustrations on the nearest available object.

It is the lack of understanding of the two roles and the way they coexist that I suspect has led the author down this path. I would expect (and I may be wrong) that the author fantasises about being submissive herself but has never experienced the reality and so writes purely from imagination based on what she would like done to her and disregards any deeper emotional links between the two parties.


7. We have to remember that the majority of people crying ‘abuse’ do so because they themselves have been subject to abuse.

The majority of people saying ‘this is not BDSM’ are those with at least some experience in the field.

For the rest of the general public this is a naughty, feel-good romance. The innocent heroine does what she needs to in order to ‘heal’ the damaged male, because she loves him. And after all, doesn’t every girl want to catch a ‘bad boy’ and have him change his ways just for her?

Having read Mills & Boon for over 15 years I’ve seen stories of blackmail ‘I will bankrupt your family unless you sleep with me’, bribery ‘I’ll pay you x amount to be my wife but I expect sexual favours’, kidnap ‘your father owes me and if he wants you back he’ll pay, until then you’re mine’ and things that if they happened in real life you’d be appalled at. But because they occur in a romance genre novel and the hero is always rich and gorgeous, plus he always falls in love with his victim, the means to the end are accepted. In my opinion Fifty Shades is no different.

Okay so he uses physical torment instead of mental torment but the end result is a ‘happily ever after’ fantasy of taming the alpha beast.

The trilogy is a fantasy. Poorly written in parts and based mainly on an imagined lifestyle rather than fact, but… For the average woman on the street this is a romance, pure and simple. The idea of a dominant man is a common fantasy purely because men these days, well… Let’s just say women’s lib has a lot to answer for.

If you take away the over descriptive commentary, and ignore some factual inaccuracies, then it’s a good book. I just wish it had been one book and not three.


2 Responses to “Fifty Shades of Grey”

  1. Arizona August 4, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

    thanks for this review. I was wondering what all the fuss was about. Just haven’t gotten around to checking it out for myself yet.

  2. Peter Wesley August 4, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

    Thank you for your insights. I have not read “50 Shades of Grey” and your review has been very insightful, both on the work itself and the idea of long, sometimes pointless, works. Thank you for that. Sometimes authors use 100 words where 5 will do. Does not sound like this is a work I would read, glad that you wrote such an insightful piece on it. Thank you.

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