Cast your mind back a few months to the start of the summer, when it seemed like everyone was reading the hot new thing– the erotic, romance novel Fifty Shades of Grey. The EL James book trilogy took Britain by storm and sold millions of copies. As it seemed like all my friends (especially my girl friends) were reading the novels, and as an avid reader myself I needed to see what the fuss was about so invested in the entire trilogy (I figured I would read the whole thing).
The novel centres on Anastasia Steele, a young, pretty, quite innocent girl and Christian Grey, an enigmatic, bachelor billionaire. They happen to meet when Ana has to interview him on behalf of her housemate and the two have an instant spark. Grey begins to pursue/stalk her (but in a cute way) and Ana begins to fall under his spell. Christian then reveals that he in fact leads a very alternative lifestyle, acting as a dominant, and is into BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, and Masochism). Things start getting interesting from this point, although Ana continues to fall head over heels in love with him, and it seems that she is having an effect on Christian.
I won’t go into too much detail about the novel, but it is a romance trilogy so you can probably guess that these two crazy kids end up together (and not just in a dominant/subordinate relationship). In terms of the book sizes they’re not light – each book is about 500 pages long, and I do struggle to see how EL James has dragged the story out for that long. There is a lot of description (of sex and of other extravagant activities the couple gets up to). I probably started reading the books around July, and it didn’t take me long to get into the first book – I finished that within about two weeks (I can be a slow reader). However, the next two took a bit longer and it wasn’t until the end of October that I managed to finish the entire series.
One thing that struck me very much towards the end of the series is how much the series reminded me of Twilight (minus the vampires of course). Here we have a man who was detached, but beautiful and full of charm, and a girl who was perhaps slightly socially awkward, quite normal pretty but besotted by him. I can even imagine the film adaptation when it comes out flowing quite like the Twilight movie – voice over thoughts and moody music. Edward compares himself to a bad guy in a superhero story, constantly telling Bella it would be better off if she stayed away from him. Early on the in first novel Christian does exactly the same to Anastasia. He tells her to stay away from him and that he’s not a ‘hearts and flowers guy’. The similarities between the characters and their relationship with each other are numerous – they’re both fiercely protective of their girls, other women are constantly bowled over by their beauty and charisma, and as couples, they tend to not want to be separated and when they do they constantly moan about their unhappiness. More trivial similarities include Bella and Ana’s parents are both divorced and Edward and Christian have adoptive families. The characters of José and Jacob are also quite similar in terms of their blatant love for their respective friend (although with Jacob Bella does actually have some feelings towards him whereas José is purely platonic.
I actually like the Twilight franchise and to be honest I enjoyed reading these books. It’s certainly not going to be winning any Pulitzer prizes but, as far as an enjoyable, easy going read goes, this one is certainly one you could pack in your suitcase to read beside the pool. As far as the sexual content goes, I certainly don’t think this book is degrading to women, in fact I think it is exactly the opposite. In recent years, ‘Page 3’ and ‘lads mags’ have become far more accessible and much more in your face so I think it is only fair that women have a chance to be sexually awakened and be presented with more mainstream erotica. It allows women who may not have experience of that side of sex to become more accustomed to it, and perhaps introduce it into their own love lives.
However, being an ex-English Literature student, I cannot forgive EL James’ poor writing. It took me a while to realise just how badly the novels were written. The constant repetitiveness of Ana’s thoughts and just how ridiculous they sounded were enough to irritate me. She manages to make both lead characters very two-dimensional, and both clearly have issues (although saying that every human does). After a while the issues become quite annoying in themselves; Ana has obvious self-esteem and confidence issues and Christian is self loathing and doesn’t believe he is worth anything. Sometimes I did find myself reading the book and just wanting to jump into the story and shout and slap the both of them. The idea that the two characters simply cannot be apart from each other for more than an hour is also suffocating to even think about – in reality would any woman want to be controlled or be around there partner every minute of the day?
One thing that I can commend EL James on is the sexual awakening of Ana’s character. She walks into the book awkward and a virgin, and she soon finds her libido and her sex drive, and thus showing women everywhere a new opening into their sexual awakening.
I would certainly recommend this book if you’re going away on holiday any time soon and if you want a bit of light reading on the plane/by the pool. If you want to find out what the fuss is about, then go, be brave and embrace the novels. But don’t expect a first class read on par with War and Peace.
“I’ve wanted you since you fell into my office. You are exquisite, honest, warm, strong, witty, beguiling, innocent; the list is endless. I’m in awe of you. I want you, and the thought of anyone else having you is like a knife twisting in my dark soul” (Christian, Fifty Shades Darker)