★ 1.5 Stars
Genre: Romance / Erotica
Publication Date: May 25th, 2011
Volunteering to read Fifty Shades of Grey is like volunteering to be waterboarded, except with poor writing in lieu of water. Just when you think the torture might be over, another faceful of metaphor slurry and childish dialogue floods into your lungs. You knew what you were in for, and you knew exactly how fun it would be, and yet some irrational seed nudged you into doing it anyway.
In a way, Fifty Shades does succeed at being the ultimate act of sadomasochism. It actively hurts to continue and yet you remain compelled to. This is not so much out of intrigue, as trying to figure out what value anyone could possibly see in the experience. Why was there such a mysticism and phenomena surrounding this chunk of fanfiction? That’s all it is, really, and reading the entire series I imagine would be something akin to spiritual suicide.
At the height of Fifty Shades of Infamy, I saw what I’m pretty sure were middle-schoolers toting copies of this stupid book. Which, by the way, the physical design shocks me. The cover is as aggressively uninteresting as its innards, and looks like an early vanity press churn-out. It has that same plastic, filmy feel and cheap JPEG texture to the design. I couldn’t believe Vintage published this! Their books are typically beautiful. It’s like they were subtly trying to inspire you to avoid it, but were stuck promoting it at the same time.
Fifty Shades of Grey, as you likely already know, revolves around a closet serial killer, Patrick Bate– I mean, Christian Grey, who, in his spare time between being a pompous entrepreneur and being a Criminal Minds villain, seduces a blushing idiot named Anastasia. They get into a relationship that borders on abusive and a series of embarrassing euphemisms ensues. What is supposed to be steamy deflates quickly as it begins to come off as creepy.
The more mundane scenes aren’t much better, full of nonsensical pseudo-economics and a general dull lack of realism I shan’t bother going into, because you might fall asleep on your keyboard. On the other hand, you might accidentally type out a better book than this if you do, so maybe I will…
I am a survivor of Victorian in-joke Irene Iddlesleigh, so in fairness, Fifty Shades is hardly the worst book I’ve ever read. Sure, it’s tedious and insulting, and romance readers deserve better, but it is at least a functional book that humans can read easily using their eyestalks. But that’s a bare essential, not a compliment.
Everything about this novel is boring. “Boring” is the deadliest of the seven book sins. Rarely, the amateurish writing has the good grace to be amusing, especially with the “sex scenes”, which are almost the exact antithesis of sexy, coming off as peculiar, awkward and strangely prudish, despite trying their maximum try-hard level of hardest to be edgy. But mostly, Fifty Shades of Grey is more like Fifty Shades of Brown, because it’s about like watching molasses drip. It’s not even fun to parody, as you’ll notice if you look through the plethora of equally boring parodies that were churned out in its wake.
I do not dislike the erotica or romance genres, just so we’re clear I’m not rating this poorly because of its type. I’m rating it poorly because I believe those genres are valuable as any other, and carry a lot of avid readers who deserve better than this load of sludge as their favourite genre’s signature book. This won over five awards, somehow. If you see it listed by a critic as one of the “quintessential romance greats”, above Pride & Prejudice, you’ll know that they didn’t actually read it, because a true critic will have read other romance books before in their life and know the difference between them almost immediately.
I guess you could technically say that Fifty Shades was steamy, if you get my drift. Steamy like a cow pie is steamy. I feel a worse person for having subjected my brain to it. The Marquis de Sade’s bibliography inspires far less vile emotions, and he is the literal namesake of the word “sadism”. Think about this.
Actually, remixing Fifty Shades of Grey more in the vein of de Sade could’ve made it far better.
Take this – throw out the entire script and concept, and just leave Patrick Bateman and Anastasia with their same personalities intact. I mean, Christian Grey. Change the genre to thriller instead of romance, and write Anastasia like de Sade’s Justine – an innocent and naive figure who puts her trust in the wrong man and gets entangled with him. Only, Grey turns out to be a serial killer who plays psychological games with his prey. Nix the business setting and replace it with a decrepit mansion in the woods set with traps. You now have an engrossing novel that might not totally suck.
How many inner goddesses does it take to screw in a lightbulb? We may never know, but whatever the number is, it’s higher than amount of effort put into cleaning this up for human consumption. E.L. James may not even be that bad of a writer, but the editing leaves her work in an abysmal state that they ought to be ashamed of putting out. Goodbye, the last threads of integrity in the publishing industry. I knew ye well.
I’m sure this will all come back to haunt me as well when in some distant aeon, death may die and my alternate self finishes a billionaire serial killer erotica of my own.
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