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A Literary Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

posted Apr 4, 2012, 8:56 AM by Heather S   [ updated Apr 4, 2012, 9:27 AM ]

Courtesy USA Today/EL James
Courtesy USA Today/EL James

So I was perusing because every now and again I like to experience what its like to do what the simple folk do and I came across an article on these books that seem to be all the rage with the cool kids these days.  Apparently they are thinking about making them into movies.  I think they will suck as anything but softcore porn movies (which also inherently suck, but in a different way - no pun intended), but whatevs. 

Anyway a brief summary of the books is that a woman is seduced by a rich guy who has a BDSM fetish.  If you're unaware what BDSM is, that would be bondage, domination/discipline, submission/sadism, masochism - you learn something new every day!  If you're still unclear what that is, follow this link (should be work safe, but anything you click on after following this link will most likely not be).  That's really all you need to know about the books because there's not a whole lot more going on.

For shits and giggles, I decided to read them.  I read the first book in an evening and what follows is my review (which you can also view on unless/until someone flags it as offensive).  If you read some of the reviews on there you'll notice that they are broken into 4 general categories:  1) the person LOVED IT (gotta question these people's IQ), 2) The person was offended by it, 3) the person thought it was too tame as far as BDSM pr0n goes or 4) the person was expecting it to be a literary masterpiece and was therefore sorely disappointed (gotta question these people's IQ even more than category 1).

Regardless, this is my attempt at addressing all the various readers and reviewers:

First off, some people need to realize that you have to take these books for what they are worth. At the root of it all they are romance books. The fact that there's not a picture of Fabio bowing over some sprawled out chicky with her cleavage busting over her dress doesn't change their genre, so for all you literary snobs, get over yourselves. It's a romance novel. It's not going to be great literature.

Also, it's obvious that they were meant to be mainstream, so even though it touches on BDSM there's nothing incredibly scandalous going on, so for all you hardcore BDSMers upset that it's so tame as far as BDSM goes you have to get over yourselves too - put the book down, back away slowly and then console yourself by rearranging your nipple clamp drawer or perusing the interwebz for kinky hogtie pr0n or something. (On the opposite side, if you're a prude with a disdain for all things sex-related, then I don't know why you'd even be reading reviews for this book and I'm sorry you choose to live such a horrible existence. Perhaps you should live a little. Poke your head out of that frigid little shell of yours and go out and get laid.)

In a nutshell, these books are quick, easy, entertaining reads aimed at chicks (yeah chicks - I can't see many d00ds wanting to read this crap) who 1) dont mind romance novels, 2) aren't offended by somewhat graphic sex descriptions and 3) aren't expecting extreme, hardcore BDSM porn. If these things don't apply to you, don't read the effing book.

So as mentioned, they aren't literary genius and they aren't supposed to be. That being said, there are predictably some irksome things about the writing. First of all, why are people murmuring all the time? She murmured this. He murmured that. Someone is murmuring something to someone else on every single page. And with all that murmuring going on, nobody ever says, "Huh? What? I can't hear you! Speak the eff up! You're murmuring, dammit!" So I guess all the characters must have better hearing than I do.

Also, Ana (the female protagonist) loves to say "oh my!" It seems to be the only exclamation she knows, in fact, which is odd because I don't really remember the last time I uttered those words, except in jest. I expect it said in cases like: "Oh my! What big teeth you have, grandma." or, "Oh my, whatever will I do?" [back of hand thrown over eyes in a dramatic fashion] "Alas Alas I do not know how I will find the will to go on!" but in cases like, "Oh my! What a large member you have bulging from your pants!" I expect a different exclamation than "Oh my!", but maybe that's just me...

And lastly, people's breath "hitches" a lot in this book (as in, "This discussion is so hot and scandalous that my breath hitches in excitement and surprise!"). The first time I read it, I thought - "hey, what a nice description!" But after the 587th time it's used, it tends to get old.

I realize the author is never going (nor trying) to be confused with Conrad or Dickens and that there are no red suns pasted in the sky like wafers (if you get this reference, congrats - you just passed 7th grade English), but having a variety of verbs and adjectives could have made the book far less distracting to read. For whatever reason, the murmuring thing was the most distracting to me, especially because people are often murmuring in places where (IMO) they shouldn't be, so I have this mental image of the characters with smirky smarmy grins on their faces soft talking during all their conversations to each other which sort of ruins the general sentiment of the book for me.

As expected from the genre, the character development is trite. The story line and the "shocking" revelations are predictable. And, aside from the BDSM part, it's pretty much the same old scripted romance novel story line: unexperienced women who doesn't realize how beautiful she is gets swept off her feet by a womanizing cad who's somewhat effed in the head. But there's something "different" about her that changes him and makes him realize that she's not like all the other women because they are star crossed soul mates who are so in love with each other that it allows them to have sex with each other way more than would otherwise be humanly possible .

Anyway, I tend to be a horrible literary snob, but sometimes serious and thought-provoking are too much after a long day of work and so every now and again I like to read mind-numbing (but entertaining) trash that requires very little brain power to get through and pretty much, that's what these books are.