“Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James

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Well. Here it is. This review has been a long time coming (no pun intended…eww, sorry) and by now you might be wondering what all the fuss is about over E.L. James’ fan-fiction turned international sensation Fifty Shades of Grey. I must say I was a little hesitant to begin reading after all that I had heard about the book and its sister two in the Fifty Shades trilogy. I would by no means consider myself an angel, and I’m usually rather unfazed by book content, but everyone I knew who had read it made it out to be raciest thing to hit American bookshelves in years. But despite my reservations, I broke down and purchased the book, and quickly found myself wrapped up in the crazy, often unrealistic life of Anastasia Steele, whether I was ready or not. I have to admit, though, that I was not brave enough to buy the book in physical copy. Instead I purchased and downloaded it on my Kindle, lest anyone see me in public reading this fiery anthology of sin!

First, let me briefly explain the plot of the novel. Then we’ll get into my rather mixed feelings about this as a whole.

Fifty Shades of Grey starts out innocently enough with senior English major Anastasia Steele covering an interview for her best friend Kate, regular school newspaper reporter, who is sick. The interview is with Christian Grey, the 20-something CEO of Grey Enterprises who not only happens to be incredibly rich, but also insanely gorgeous. Ana is immediately taken aback by Christian’s strong presence and intimidated by the strange power he instantly seems to hold over her. After stumbling through the embarrassing interview questions, Ana is relieved, knowing she’ll never have to face Christian Grey again. Or so she thinks, until he shows up at her work and her whole life changes. Ana does not understand the undeniable chemistry between the two of them and can’t seem to stay away from Christian, despite his warnings that she should leave him alone.

Ana and Christian’s relationship quickly (and boy, do I mean QUICKLY ) heats up, and Ana begins to learn about the dark side of the beautiful celebrity. Ana, a virgin with no prior serious boyfriend, is a stark contrast to Christian, a sexually experienced dominant, looking for a woman to be his ultimate submissive. After Christian deflowers innocent Ana, he informs her that he will no longer continue their relationship until she signs a “contract.” This is no ordinary confidentiality agreement. This comes complete with a list of “soft limits” and “hard limits” (I’ll let your imagination run wild here…think of something kinky, and then take it 10000 steps further and you’ll get the gist of it) and rules that she must obey. Just to give you an idea of what type of rules we’re talking about, they include how much and how often Ana must work out with a personal trainer, a specified list of foods that are acceptable for her to eat, guidelines about her personal hygiene and, ahem, grooming, how Ana must address Christian (only as “master” or “sir) and finally, a rule stating that she is not allowed to look him in the eye. Oh, and let’s not forget, the guidelines on acceptable punishment that Christian may inflict if she ever acts out of line. Any normal human being would be running to the hills after hearing an order as tall as this, but for lovesick Ana, the choice isn’t so simple. Even after she sees and experiences Christian’s infamous “Red Room of Pain.” Yeah….

The rest of the book pretty much consists of Ana wavering back and forth between whether or not she can handle the type or relationship that Christian wants from her and if she thinks they can mutually satisfy each other’s needs. Combine that with about 9000 sex scenes, and you pretty much have Fifty Shades of Grey.

That all being said, I didn’t HATE the book. I actually didn’t even dislike it. I surely would not place it on my top 10 list, but also found it hard to put down. Sex scenes and kinkiness aside, James does a nice job of developing the character of Christian, leaving us wanting to know more about his past and what has made him this way. I can’t say that I relate to Anastasia on any grand level, but I suppose I can understand a woman who abandons parts of herself and looks past her differences for the sake of love. However, at points in the book, I found myself wanting to go through and do a complete edit. There are sentences and phrases that are repeated over and over and over again in the book that I could have easily done without. If I had to read about Ana “biting her lip” one more time I thought I was going to scream. The sex scenes also got rather old after a while. I seriously felt like I was immune to it by the end. A paragraph would start out with Christian seductively telling Ana what he wanted to do with her, and my only thought was “well, here we go again.” I think the constant sex took away from the book. Maybe if James wrote one sex scene ever twenty pages instead of every five, my attention and respect might have been kept a little longer.

The first installment of the trilogy leaves off with such a cliffhanger that I just had to read the second, Fifty Shades Darker. It is by far my favorite book of the three. It takes us much deeper into the mind of Christian, which I find quite fascinating. However, I have been working on reading the third and final book, Fifty Shades Free, for about two and a half months now and I can’t seem to get into it or make progress. The second book wraps up Christian and Ana’s relationship and lets you know how it will end up, so once this was answered for me, I lost a vested interest in the story. I know that Hollywood is in the works to make this book into a movie, but I honestly cannot understand how this is possible without an NC-17 rating.

All in all, Fifty Shades of Grey is surely not some grand work of literature that will stand the test of time, but still an entertaining read that pushes the envelope on what is socially acceptable.

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3 thoughts on ““Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L. James

  1. Sarah, I applaud you in your very succint evaluation of this book. You, somehow, managed to sum up the same mixed feelings I had about it as well. I have read other romance novels that are loaded with smut and I’m not sure how this was any different. I was intrigued by their complicated relationship and Christian’s character but the repetiveness of the scenes lead me to forego the next two books. Great review.

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