Color me fifty shades of pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed Fifty Shades of Grey. After hearing the negative feedback about the writing, I prepared myself to dislike it. And in fact, when I originally tried the free sample chapters on Kindle, I dismissed the novel as mediocre, a 3-star read. But because I write erotic fiction, I decided I needed to see what all the fuss was about (The trilogy has sold 10 million copies), so I gave it another go. Midway through, I was thinking four stars. By the end, five. The story and characters are so compelling, it deserves it. Now I can see why the 50 shades of grey pun costume is so popular at fancy dress parties! I shouldn’t have judged it so early, but I’m glad I gave it another chance.
Does that mean that the writing is flawless? No. (More on that later). What it does mean is that E.L. James has written a psychological tale that grabbed me. Years from now, I’ll be able to pick up this book and remember instantly what it was about – unlike many others that are arguably better written.
If you’ve been mediating in a cave for two months, here’s the story: Anastasia “Ana” Steele, a new college grad, meets Christian Grey, a Wunderkind billionaire businessman, when she interviews him for her college newspaper. She literally and figuratively falls for him, and the feeling is mutual. The problem? Christian is a Dominant, a practitioner of bdsm. He’s never had “vanilla” sex. His psychological makeup demands that he control, dominate and physically hurt his sexual partner. He wrestles with some serious issues.
“Why don’t you like to be touched?” I whisper, staring into soft gray eyes.
“Because I’m fifty shades of fucked up, Anastasia.”
When they first meet, even though he can’t seem to stay away from her, he warns her off.
“Though there are people who’d say I don’t have a heart.”
“Why would they say that?”
“Because they know me well.”
Ana most definitely is NOT a submissive, has no desire to be, and worse, is still a virgin when they first meet. Could they be more star-crossed? But they negotiate and compromise, each edging a tad closer to center. Ana consents to some erotic spankings; Christian bends his rules by sleeping over night with her, relenting on some of his demands, and beginning to want “more” from their strictly defined D/s relationship. Yet that doesn’t bring them close enough to bridge the very wide gap in their respective needs and desires.
Despite his many issues, Christian, as seen through Ana’s eyes, is a sympathetic, sexy, albeit tortured hero. Ana is engaging and snarky. Unlike many other bdsm/erotica books where the kink is presented as titillating window dressing, Fifty Shades delves into the psychology and the emotional impact that can’t help but move the reader. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details, and those of Fifty Shades are unique and intriguing. It’s interesting that Christian won’t permit Ana to touch his chest.
I found the story believable. I can totally buy that a young girl is smitten by a rich powerful man a few years older than she is. I buy that women get involved with men who are wrong for them. I buy that couples can love each other deeply yet have differences that can’t be surmounted.
Now for the writing, which some reviewers have criticized. After reading the book, I understand it, but in my opinion, the problem isn’t the writing, it’s the editing. The writing is solid and creative. The characters are well-developed and the reader learns a surprising amount about Christian despite the fact that the book is written in the first person from Ana’s point of view. The witty dialog moves the story. The sex scenes are five-star, some of the best I’ve read. They sparkle. Each scene is creative and fresh. Repetition might be one of the flaws of this book, but it was absent in the sex scenes. E.L. James has a good story concept and plots well. I highlighted many lines throughout this book as my favorites. She doesn’t do a “data dump” of background info. We discover Christian’s history in a well-paced dribble. All of that adds up to good writing in my opinion.
But Fifty Shades needs revision, editing. In truth, it reads like an early draft of a novel that is not yet ready for publication. Although it is an affectation/mannerism of Christian to use names in conversation, it’s overdone. There are way too many name mentions. Many readers have criticized the frequency of references to his gray eyes. Yes, that occurs, and it’s compounded by the fact that his name is Grey and he often wears gray clothing. My particular pet peeve was the frequent exclamation “oh my” that Ana used whenever she was shocked by what Christian did, which was often. Besides being overused, it didn’t strike me as a comment a 22-year-old would make. In the beginning of the book, the repetitive structure put me off: dialog, emotional reaction. Dialog, emotion. Dialog emotion.
A few metaphors made me wince (I can almost hear his sphinxlike smile through the phone. How do you hear a smile?). Yet most others sang.
All of those flaws are minor and could have been easily fixed. Had they been, Fifty Shades of Grey would have been a knock-it-out-of-the-ball-park read. But even flawed, it’s damn good. I plan to read the rest of the trilogy, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed.