50 Shades of Boring

The first time I was told to read 50 Shades of Grey, my reaction was one of complete disdain. "I don't read literotica." Literotica and romance novels to me have about as much artistic value as low-rent porn videos. And I say this as someone who absolutely loved the Hunger Games trilogy, so it's not as if I'm a lit snob.

Flash forward a few months. It's the summer. I'm bored. The Game of Thrones books are so heavy. One click later at the Amazon Kindle store, and 50 Shades is on my iPad. And let it never be said that E.L. James is a heavy, dense writer. I finished 50 Shades in a day. I'm slogging through the next two books of the trilogy though.

So is the book really worth all the fuss? Libraries are pulling it from their shelves. There's a debate about whether it glorifies an abusive relationship. Hotels replaced Bibles with 50 Shades copies. And everywhere, in the subways, on the beach, I see women reading it.

The basic story outline is: Christian Grey is rich and mysterious and good-looking. Ana is a goody two shoes college student. She has a bunch of guy friends but acts fantastically offended when any of them ask her on a date or try to kiss her and of course she is a virgin. Her roommate has an assignment to interview Mr. Grey but roommate gets sick, and sends Ana instead. Ana thinks the interview went awful, but Mr. Grey is "smitten" and soon every chapter is filled with repetitive descriptions of them fucking. There's a catch: Christian is into S&M, and Ana is vanilla. He wants her to sign this lengthy contract where he's the Dom and she's the Sub (or Master/Slave, Boss/Bitch, whatever you want to call it) and they haggle over legalities. And fuck a lot. That's basically it.

Maybe this is a little TMI, but I've read 50 Shades cover to cover and I really don't see what is getting everyone so hot and bothered. The writing is horrific -- I had fun randomly reading pages of the book on the beach to mock the "unique" dialogue of E.L. James. I just did a random iPad flip and here's what I found. You can't make this shit up:
"Do you want to come in?" I ask shyly.
"I need to work, Anastasia, but I'll be back this evening. what time?
 I ignore the unwelcome stab of disappointment. Why do I want to spend every single minute with this controlling sex god? Oh yes, and I've fallen in love with him and he can fly.
 "Thank you ... for the more."
"My pleasure, Anastasia." He kisses me, and I inhale his sexy Christian smell.
"I'll see you later."
"Try to stop me," he whispers.
Wow. What titillating dialogue. I'm getting so horny just typing it. <sarcasm>

As for the sex scenes, here's another random sampler:
He climbs off me and bends to give me a quick peck on the lips. Then he stands and lifts his shirt over his head. He undoes his jeans and drops them to the floor. 
He is gloriously naked. My inner goddess is doing a triple axel dismount off the uneven bars, and abruptly my mouth is dry. He has a physique drawn on classical lines: muscular shoulders, narrow hips, the inverted triangle. He obviously works out. I could look at him all day. He moves to the end of the bed and grabs my ankles, pulling me swiftly and sharply downward so that my arms are stretched out and unable to move. 
"A triple axel dismount off the uneven bars?" First of all, "triple axel" is a jump in figure skating, not gymnastics. And second of all, is any of this shocking? Kinky? Special? And that's ultimately what was so disappointing about 50 Shades. I thought I'd at least be reading something slightly freaky and therefore fun, but the entire book is so damned, well, vanilla. The endless, repetitive sex (they have sex about once a chapter) never progresses much beyond that priceless Clockwork Orange description "the old in-out." Of course S&M is considered to be "50 shades of fucked up" and the vanilla heroine Ana has to save the damaged Christian Grey from that awful S&M lifestyle/mindset with her "inner goddess" personality and sexual prowess. The only times anything remotely resembling S&M is performed on Ana, she breaks up with Christian. (And spoiler alert: it's just a spanking on the butt. Yeah.)

The book is strangely outdated in many ways. Ana and Christian spend all their time sending each other "provocative" emails. Was this written in the 1990s or something? This is the age of the smartphone, and most people I know text/sext. Christian is a billionaire businessman -- again, is this the 1990s, when being filthy rich was considered sexy? Ana doesn't even own a laptop, and she wants to be a book editor? Christian buys Ana some very expensive leather-bound books -- uh, why didn't he just buy her an iPad?

As for the controversy about whether it's an abusive relationship, well, some people think any kind of physical touching that causes pain is abuse. I don't personally agree, but whatever. What is creepy about 50 Shades is that Christian Grey is a control freak who never gives Ana any physical or emotional space.  He stalks her locations, isolates her from her friends, and when she gets a job he (of course) makes a merger/acquisition and takes over the company, so he's both her boss and lover. He commands her to eat and drink exact amounts of food and water. And she's not allowed to touch him. I think that's much more abusive than the two times he spanks her.

It doesn't even matter, because the Ana/Christian relationship is so cliched that most of the time it feels like some literotica catchphrases were randomly pieced together by a computer. "Oh my/Oh crap/Oh fuck" every time they have sex. When Ana gets horny she says her "inner goddess" comes out. Snort. She also talks about her "subconscious" all the time. Does anyone really talk about her subconscious except maybe in therapy? Ana refers to her genitalia as "her sex" which is just ...  I mean, she's a 22-year old college student. I don't think students at BYU would even refer to their own organs as their "sex." And of course every time they use a condom a "foil is ripped." Oh.My.God. Yay for promoting safe sex, but it's all just stupid, really. Besides being sexually shallow, the relationship is emotionally shallow as well. When Ana learns that Christian's ex-Sub attempted suicide, all she can say is "Whoa ... scary." I could list a million other examples, but bottom line is, the characters or relationships never come alive. They don't jump out of the page. They are strictly bound by romance/literotica cliches and never get any further.

If you want to see a genuine, witty, thoughtful portrayal of an S&M relationship, watch the movie Secretary. James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal do what E.L. James could not -- make the viewer believe that this was a real relationship with real people. The characters of Secretary are actually "50 shades of fucked up," but I cared about them in all the ways I never cared about Ana and Christian.

I thought 50 Shades would entertain me, maybe turn me on. I didn't expect literary greatness. But it was only entertaining in an unintentional way, and it didn't turn me on for a minute. It's not even vanilla. Vanilla is at least sweet. 50 Shades is just ... as grey and dull as a doornail.


  1. Love, love, love Secretary! To me Mr. Grey will always be E. Edward Grey.

  2. I admit I read this book because of the hype and what a fucking tragic mistake, the same mistake I made when I read Twilight because of the hype.

    I agree with everything in this review, it took me ages to even read the book properly and stop concentrating on her shitty writing. Then I just kept waiting, waiting, waiting for the hardcore BDSM to start and when it finally did, the book finished?!?! SAAAY WHAAT! Damn bitch! I knew it would be a shit plot with shitty characters but I carried on for the SEX that didn't happen.

    Oh and C Grey is ugly as fuck, super super rich and super super handsome? TURN OFF. Plain dull, perfect name for a perfect bore.

  3. I thought reading the book would be that worth it, but I was kind of disappointed with it actually, I had a problem understanding his choice of words. This book is obviously about making love and not on the relationship itself; they don’t have any idea how important a relationship is, for others, to save their relationship they purchase generic Viagra to build a happy family and a strong foundation of relationship. Compared to this book, their problems are nothing with others problems regarding the relationship.


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