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'Fifty Shades' of the worst book ever written
As a lifelong writer and reader, I try to keep up on the latest trends in publishing and what’s popular. I also firmly believe that to become better, all writers should purposefully read poorly written novels in order to know what doesn’t work and what they don’t want to do.
When Fifty Shades of Grey by British author EL James came about, I heard whispers about the novel. (Yes, literal whispers, as no one really wants to discuss the book aloud due to the racy content contained within its pages.) One person would say they were engrossed, the next said they hid it from their husband under their pillow for reading after he fell asleep, and the next said the writing was so horrid that they stopped reading after the first ten pages. Because I normally read horror, mystery, and suspense/thriller novels, I did not jump on the bandwagon for quite some time…but after all the rumblings of a movie deal, I just had to find out for myself what all the fuss was really about. Admittedly I am a bit behind the times by just now offering up my review for consideration, but with a movie scheduled to be released in August 2014 it's never too late to warn the unsuspecting.
The plot revolves around college student Anastasia Steele (Ana) who helps out a sick roommate to interview an affluent young entrepreneur Christian Grey. She falls for the mysterious man who, despite also liking Ana, wants to use her for some bedroom fun. Before the virginal Ana can engage down this dark and possibly dangerous path with Christian, he requires her to sign a contract that lists everything from what he can do to her while they are together to her dietary restrictions to how many times she must work out in a week. Complications arise when Ana’s feelings are thrown to the wolves during their first “encounter”, but she remains intrigued by her own desire to delve into his dark world. The tale is told from the first person point of view of Ana.
Author E.L. James
As of the writing of this Hub, Amazon has just over 20,000 reviews of the book, and over one-fourth of those reviews give the book one star. One reviewer commented, “…I’m five chapters in and just can’t take it anymore.” Even though I agreed wholeheartedly with those who threw it in the trash after the first chapter, I stuck it out to the bitter end. In fact, the reading of the reviews is by far more entertaining than this book could have ever hoped to be.
The writing itself can only be likened to that of a child who giggles at the idea of adult relations. James’s idea of writing includes repeating the same phrases and words over and over and over…and then a few more times just for good measure. Thanks to the aforementioned Amazon reviewer, we have a count of some of these words and phrases. Ana says “Jeez” 81 times, she “flushes” or “blushes” 125 times. Between Ana and Christian there are 124 “grins”, but they also “frown” 124 times. Characters “whisper” 195 times and “murmur” 199 times. Just for fun, Christian’s “mouth presses into a hard line” 10 times. This is just a sampling of the gross overuse of words and phrases used by the author.
In case you don't believe me...
The characters can be described as thin, and I believe that’s overly generous. There is no substance behind any them, and they are not built up in a manner in which a reader can either relate or “root for”, as readers like to do. It’s as if the author wanted to write shocking erotica and plopped in some characters because books are required to have them. The characters have been likened to those of Twilight fame, and rightfully so: an awkward, clumsy and naïve female who has mommy issues due to many divorces instantly falls in love with a mysteriously perfect male and travels into his dark world. Oh and did I mention the guy "friend" who loves her from afar?
Main character Ana is extremely unbelievable as a college student in America. The book takes place in the present time (the book was published in 2011), yet she has no email address until Christian buys her an expensive computer. Even if one was to believe that she had no personal email address, universities today automatically issue email addresses to every student. That’s their primary source of communicating with students since email is so popular. Ana is supposed to be a naïve, inexperienced young girl without much real-world experience, yet she comes across as just plain stupid, with her mannerisms awkward and unappealing. Even more unbelievable is the idea that she caught the attention of a billionaire at first meet.
Said billionaire, Christian, is possibly the most unlikeable character ever written. He is arrogant, standoffish, overly self-important, and ridiculously irritating. There is nothing about him that is attractive or real. He is also a self-made billionaire at the ripe old age of 26, something which is nearly impossible to do unless you’re inventing the next Facebook and iPhone all at once. The character is written as the hero, yet he is more like an antagonist which leaves the reader just plain confused. Does the author truly expect the reader to want Ana to be with him? If so, it is quite insulting to her readers. I’m still not sure that the author even knows what she wanted the reader to get out of his character, which is quite possibly more insulting.
In addition to the blandness of the characters (which extends to the supporting cast), even though all of the characters are born and raised Americans, there are so many British phrases used in the story that either the author struggled with writing characters that were not British or the author simply did not care if the writing was done well. Apparently, neither did the editor.
Avoiding actual dialogue
A large portion of the conversation between Ana and Christian takes place over email. That’s right: email. The tediousness of these emails are not just the pages of email conversation, but that the subject line changes with almost every email in a poor attempt to express how they are feeling during the exchange. It leaves the dialogue without an anchor or foundation for the dialogue to take place. Feelings and facial expressions are removed, and the setting is nonexistent. The fact that the author uses this technique to use up so much space in the book appears to be an amateurish way for the author to get out of actually having to write meaningful dialogue between characters in a realistic setting. Talk about breaking the cardinal writing rule of "Show, don't tell!"
A cliché tale
Needless to say, the plot is cliché and quite boring. A young, inexperienced and naïve girl falls for a wealthy, experienced man in a love-at-first-sight meeting. Typical of most torrid romance novels, the overdone storyline is nothing more than an excuse to write erotica. The plot for the book, though cliché, could have been done well as many other authors have demonstrated, but the author appears to have just wanted a backdrop for the story and an easy explanation for Christian having so much money.
As their romance (?) blossoms, Christian showers Ana with lavish gifts and in turn she gives him what he wants in bed (or in his special BDSM room). Essentially it’s prostitution with a written contract. The fact that he has done this with others should have scared off the timid girl, yet she goes along with it as if it's perfectly normal to do so. While the book has no true ending as it is part of a trilogy, there really isn’t much of a cliffhanger to make a reader want to continue.
Giving readers the wrong idea
Christian admittedly uses women and inflicts as much pain as they can tolerate (and then some more) solely for his pleasure, and not for theirs. He tells this to Ana as well, who for some reason decides to sign his offensive contract. He alternately showers her with lavish gifts to keep her appeased and sticking with the contract. Most people would refer to this as abuse or domestic violence, not just physically but psychologically as well.
While the author may fancy herself a brave forerunner in writing erotica that has been embraced by the masses, there is nothing noble about the way it is presented in this novel. Proudly displaying the type of physical and psychological abuse by Christian on Ana, and then trying to show that it’s acceptable behavior, is a complete step in the wrong direction for understanding and helping women who are victims of abuse. Had the author used this as an opportunity to demonstrate what is wrong with domestic abuse, then there might be something to the book. Yet she allows her character Ana to just fall in line with the abuse while being completely dehumanized and demoralized, as if all women should embrace their inner masochistic goddess and follow suit.
Did you read Fifty Shades?
An offense on all fronts
Overall, both writers and readers should be completely offended by this lackluster offering. As a writer myself, I feel that the publication of this book flies in the face of what good writing is really about. It also makes it feel as if anyone can publish a garbage book if they put a little erotica in the tale. The publisher and editors should also be completely ashamed of themselves for putting forth such an awful book. There are so many hardworking, genuinely great writers out there sending query letters and clutching onto hope along with all their rejection letters. Those writers should be the ones that are rewarded for their craft, not this author.
If you read Fifty Shades, did you enjoy it?
The author not only has no regard for writing as an art form, she also does not care at all about her readers. She provides them with nothing to hold onto and readers should be allowed to request a full refund plus something to compensate their time and trouble. In fact, we should start a revolution of ashamed readers writing the publisher to write for their money back. Maybe it will act as a deterrent to writers and publishers in the future who believe that this kind of drivel is a satisfactory substitute for great writing and storytelling.