on 20 April 2012
I downloaded this one morning whilst listening to BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour and hearing E.L James being interviewed.
I'll confess: I did read it from end to end, and I must also confess that my Trollope took a backseat for a couple of days. But when I'd finished 50 SoG, it was a relief to go back to some proper literature, feeling saddened, cheapened, almost used, by having read it. Make no mistake: 50 Shades of Grey is utter rubbish!
The central theme is that a rather naive college student, Ana, is swept off her feet after a chance encounter with a fabulously wealthy business man, Christian Grey CEO. (He's ok though because his company sends aid to Darfur.) Not only is he immensely rich, but he has the looks to match - of which we are constantly reminded. He has "two penetrating gray eyes". Yes, that'll be both of them, and they combine to give him a "penetrating gaze"; he has "beautifully chiseled lips" and a square jaw. This together with the way his gray sweat pants hang off his hips "in that way", leave the poor girl wobbly at the knees.
His penis of course is equally magnificent. Indeed it scarcely ever appears without her being bowled over by its "impressive length". His erection (permanent, it appears) is "impressive". And of course he only has to enter her for her to have an an orgasm that causes her body to "convulse and shatter into a thousand pieces". Next time she "shatters again into tiny fragments", before "her traitorous body explodes in an intense body-shattering orgasm". She wonders will her body withstand "another earth-shattering moment". At least he is polite enough to comment in a moment of untypical post-coital congeniality, "You're shattered, aren't you?".
And so it goes on. The book does not reveal the mechanics by which the tiny fragments of the orgasm-shattered Ana were constantly put back together again. The secret of this process might have served Humpty Dumpty well.
The twist in the tale is that Christian is a sadistic sexual dominant who likes to tie his women up and thrash them before intercourse. It's not entirely clear whether this is consensual - but having been gagged Ana doesn't manage to say "no", so at least it's not rape. The agonising decision that Ana has to make is whether to lose him, or sign a contract submitting to his perversion.
As an undercurrent there is a suggestion that Christian himself was abused as a child, and this may explain his brutal treatment of women. Although she discovers that she is his 16th submissive partner, his own sad childhood engenders sympathy in Ana's mind - and so being whipped, spanked, gagged, tied up and forcibly screwed is the least she might do for him.
The man is not totally thoughtless: he arranges for her to be seen by his ice-cool, blonde doctor who prescribes contraception. After all, what fun would it be thrashing a woman who was pregnant? In the meantime he carries an endless supply of condoms, referred to by James as "foil packets". So he "grabs a foil packet"; releases her hair in order to rip a foil packet; and this delightful passage:
"You want it, you got it, baby," he mutters producing a foil packet from his pants pocket while he unzips his pants. Oh, Mr Boy Scout. He rolls the condom over his erection and gazes down at me. "I sure hope you're ready," he breathes, a salacious smile across his face. And in a moment, he's filling me [...] I groan... oh yes. "Christ, Ana. You're so ready," he whispers in veneration.
Again it would be wrong to traduce Christian while ignoring his good points: he replaces her ageing and much loved Beetle with a new Audi and takes her for a trip in his helicopter; and he buys her a first edition of Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Yes, he's not a total arse: he likes Delibes and Pouilly Fume and can play the piano with haunting melancholy - before his thoughts inevitably turn to sex. ""Maybe on my piano," he whispers. Oh my. My whole body tightens at the thought. Piano. Wow." I kid you not.
The story is desperately thin: poorly written, repetitive in its descriptions (there is an almost unbelievable amount of eye-rolling and lip-biting - both offences that lead to a spanking), one dimensional characters, and it's frankly stupid. Nothing really happens: rich man woos innocent women; he shags her; he beats her; she wonders if she is doing the right thing. That's about it.
Apart from using orgasms as some kind of punctuation, the book also features unbelievably tedious e-mail exchanges between the two characters. After reading a couple of lines I found myself skipping the rest. They are just puerile. You are, I suppose, to take note of some of the subtleties of these conversations: his use of "shouty capitals" and the funny way that he signs himself "Christian Grey Palm-Twitching CEO" after he has given her a good spanking. Oh dear! So endearing.
At a risk of sounding repetitive myself, how many times do you think an author might use the expression "my inner goddess" in one book? Once or twice might suffice, but Ms James uses it 65 (yes, 65) times. Example:
"Ha! My inner goddess is thrilled. I can do this." (She manages to get the Impressive One into her mouth.)
"My inner goddess smacks her lips together glowing with pride." (He gives her an 'A' for swallowing.)
"... he looks at me hungrily. Jeez, my inner goddess swoons"; (He "squeezes carnality" into her name. At least that is one you can try at home.)
"My inner goddess polevaults over the fifteen-foot bar" (she didn't wear her panties when she meets his parents for dinner);
"My inner goddess is still basking in a remnant of post-coital glow. No - we are all clueless. I towel-dry my hair...".
By the end of the book I was ready to strangle the inner goddess and the external part too.
The book ends inconclusively. At first I thought that maybe the author had got bored with the whole thing and decided to pack it in. Then I discovered that there are two sequels. I also didn't realise until later that the book had originally been posted as fan-fiction. I don't pretend to know much about this, but I guess it may explain the lack of structure and the repetition. If you are turning out a couple of hundred words at a time for serialisation, maybe there is no imperative to write well.
As a piece of titillating light-hearted fun, this might keep you amused for a little while; but as a piece of literature worthy of the author making the hallowed interview seat on Woman's Hour, NO! It's awful.