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Review of Fifty Shades of Grey

Updated on October 24, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey Bestseller

Fifty Shades of Grey, one of 2012's best sellers, is a trashy and titillating tale of bondage. Although it is the first in a trilogy, followed by Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed, the formulaic plot, flat characters and cliche-ridden writing style offer little temptation to read the sequels. Nevertheless, on the Amazon site, reviews are split almost evenly: 3,500 reviews give it five stars, while 2,500 give one, and people keep buying it. Why?

The book is one step up from a Harlequin romance, with a plot formula that starts with Anastasia Steele meeting Christian Grey, a wealthy business man who runs his empire out of a glossy high rise office tower in Seattle. Stepping in to help her sick friend cover an interview for the school newspaper, Amanda arrives at Christian Grey's offices. He's dangerous, powerful and sexy, and she is attracted. They connect, they explore sexual titillation in a submissive/dominant S & M relationship, she falls in love and when she understands that he cannot love her, they split.

Completely free of large ideas that might redeem the puerile prose, the monotonous dialogue is peppered with phrases that stall any forward momentum of the plot that might have been developing. Evading Christian's good looks and charisma, Anastasia presses "the pedal to the metal" in her race home from Seattle, fleeing from her desire to touch the lock of hair that falls across his forehead and unzip his pants. "Holy Shit!" and "Jeez" are favourite expressions in her self-talk.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James has been at the top of several of the New York Times Bestsellers lists.
Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James has been at the top of several of the New York Times Bestsellers lists. | Source

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Quick Facts about E.L. James

  • EL James is the pseudonym of British writer Erika Leonard, born Erika Mitchell in 1968
  • she studied history at University of Kent, and worked as a television executive
  • she published on as Snowqueens Icedragon before the manuscript of Fifty Shades of Grey was published.
  • in May 2012 she was listed by Time magazine as one of the world's 100 most Influential People

Fifty Shades of Gray's Roots in Fanfiction

The book started off as fan fiction in the train of the Twilight series, where Erika Leonard, writing under the name E.L. James, gathered enough of a following that she was able to negotiate a contract with Random House for a print release. Published first as an e-book. the anonymity and privacy of this format may be part of its appeal. Readers can feel safe to indulge without fear of judgement, for who sees the cover of the book you are reading if it's on the Kobo or Kindle?

The writing is dreadful, the characterization is superficial, and the ideas are thin. Clearly, the selling point is the sex, voyeuristic more than erotic, pure pornographic thrill without engagement on a personal or psychological level. Yet the story fails to grapple with the real questions it might explore--do women really want love and romance, while men want sex and dominance? Why are some women attracted to men who enjoy inflicting pain and beating them up? The friendship between Anastaia and her friend Kate is unexplored, as is the potentially interesting dynamic between Anastiasia and Christian's batman Taylor, who chauffeurs Ana around and is discreetly useful to Christian in facilitating the seduction of Christian's newest sexual handmaid. From meeting her at the airport to requisitioning her lingerie, Taylor serves as a silent butler. He sees all and speaks little, and seems to have seen it all before.

What did you think of Fifty Shades of Grey?

1 out of 5 stars from 1 rating of E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey

Are Sadism, Bondage and Control Erotic?

In far more interesting ways than this book does, Henry James explored in Portrait of a Lady the controlling machinations of an older man over a young woman; George Elliot explored in Middlemarch the same theme. DH Lawrence explored in Women in Love, Lady Chatterly's Lover and Virgin and the Gypsy erotic writing wrapped in social ideas and spiritual inspiration. Stieg Larson probes deeply into the damage and revenge of sexual bondage and abuse of power in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and his books in the Millenium Series. This book is far less thought-provoking. It amounts to soft porn and will appeal to those who want to spice up the fantasies of a stale sex life without any challenge of ideas on a social or spiritual dimension that might induce them to grow.

Now the book is a hit and E.L James has become wealthy, there is a film adaptation in the works with the screenplay by Kelly Marcel, who wrote the screenplay for the Disney adaptation of "Saving Mr. Banks," which fictionalizes the life of Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers. Mary Poppins meets S & M. I can hardly wait.

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune in May, 2012, EL James describes her amazement at the books' success, and understands the appeal lies not in the literary merits of her work, but in the explicit sex. If it's your kind of story, enjoy it. Lots of people are, the ones who bought the 3 million copies since the book was published in print by Virago Books in April, 2012.


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      for the majority of the first book. It is great. Rumor has it that the auhotr is going to write the whole thing from Christian's point of view (I read the last book on the kindle and there is a preview of two chapters written this way). I hope the rumor is true.

    • Janis Goad profile imageAUTHOR

      Janis Goad 

      4 years ago

      I understand entirely. There is content in this book that you don't want your children to read.

      At the same time, at a certain age I think it is a good thing to read freely and discuss with young people, so they can learn to evaluate what books are good and what are bad, to develop taste and critical faculties to discriminate excellence from trash independently rather than through control by censorship.

      I certainly won't pay money to go see the movie, and this is not a book I will waste time re-reading.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I can't bring myself to buy or read this book..... alohtugh I have heard so much about it and I've been tempted. I'm a mother of three young girls (two of which are reading) and I try not to do, say or read anything that would make me feel ashamed if either of them saw or accidentally read something in it. I can't cross that line..... say what you will.


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