50 Shades of Grey opens with the virginal young Anastasia Steele – a reserved college senior majoring in British literature. James does not hesitate to emphasize the obvious comparisons to the loss of purity in Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles – and re-emphasize them, and then emphasize them again for emphasis. Anyway, our inexperienced heroine finds herself interviewing charming CEO Christian Grey for her school paper, and she quickly peaks the interest of the handsome, quirky bizillionaire. Christian essentially begins stalking Ana, and instead of being frightened or disturbed, Ana is completely flattered that this man consistently shows up uninvited, tracks her phone, and always seems to know exactly where she is – Oh! It must be love! Thus, Ana allows herself to be swept up in a whirlwind of excess, and hands her purity over to Christian on a silver platter. Soon, however, Ana learns that Christian is not all that he seems when he reveals that he’s not in the market for a girlfriend, per se, rather someone to play the Submissive to his Dominant. Ana is only marginally taken aback by this revelation and, like any rational young woman, decides to give butt plugs and bondage a shot. This is followed by piece-mailed sexual episodes thrown casually in James’ attempted prose. Ana finds herself simultaneously attracted to and repelled by the opposing sides of Christian’s personality, as he showers her with gifts one minute and gets seriously turned on by “punishing” her the next. Hence, Ana must decide how much she is willing to take both physically and emotionally.
50 Shades of Grey has been busy stirring up controversy due to its elaborate descriptions of kinky, erotic sexual encounters. Whether you have issues with the sex scenes or not, it’s truly the only thing that this book has going for it. Sure, the episodes are a bit over-the-top, but it plays like an overtly gory horror film: excessive gore is able to mask shortcomings in the plot and otherwise – in the case of 50 Shades of Grey, there is much masking to be done.
When I started reading this book, I immediately assumed that a man wrote it, as the women characters are all weakly written and have completely idiotic interaction amongst themselves. I have since learned that E.L. James is a British woman (sorry, E.L.), but that doesn’t make up for the fact that her character’ interplay is complete crap. The girls quip about “fetching” tea and have a car named “Wanda.” They are effortlessly able to attract gorgeous, rich men without lifting a finger. They have no financial worries and possess stereotypical ethnic friends. They also possess a severely limited vocabulary – particularly Ana’s internal conversations. She often comments on Christian’s “ghost of a smile” – as in every two pages or so. A good thesaurus doesn’t even cost money anymore; maybe if James tried her hand at Google or even the Microsoft Word synonym finder, this would be a somewhat smoother read.
While the vocabulary constantly made me cringe, it was Ana’s incessant references to her “inner goddess” that I found to be just plain irritating. Phrases resembling, “my inner goddess leapt with joy,” pop up whenever Ana suffers a sexual victory at the hands of Christian. Okay, I understand that Ana needs some sort of interior cheerleader to push herself through this trying time in her life, but where is the reprieve for the readers? Ana is not likeable as a protagonist; perhaps that was James’ intention. Maybe she wants us to understand why Christian constantly feels a need to beat the living daylights out of her…I somehow sense that would be giving James too much credit, though.
Regardless, people certainly have a right to be into whatever they want – especially rich people like Christian who can afford to install a state-of-the-art playroom in his penthouse – but, as previously mentioned, the graphic sex is not what makes this book so bad. The problem is that the novel aims to shock through the sex scenes; the plot and the credibility of the novel suffer severely because James gets too caught up in her vivid descriptions of nipple clamps and riding crops.