Weighing in on Fifty Shades of Grey…

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.

The writing

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.


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34 Responses to Weighing in on Fifty Shades of Grey…

  1. Sue Lyndon says:

    I enjoyed your comments on Fifty Shades of Grey, Cara. I felt the same way…set myself up to not like it and then ended up enjoying it as well as Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed. In fact, I felt the sequels were stronger and Fifty Shades Freed is my favorite of the three books.

  2. Evie Knight says:

    I loved me the fifty shades of fucked up lol… I read all three and putting the “in great need of editing” aside, like you said this trilogy is one of those I’ll always remember, and will most likely re-read. I really think if the author would’ve written in in third person it would’ve made for a better book. Personally I would’ve loved to see Christian’s POV, and the author gives you a little in the last installment. Anyway, I respect everyone’s opinion on this trilogy, but for me all 3 were 5 stars. LOL!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I liked that line too. I would have LOVED to know that went on in Christian’s head, but it might have spoiled the story for me. Part of what made it intriguing was that I didn’t know everything.

    • Quicha Evans says:

      I totally agree with maybe getting a little of the books or certain scenes from Christian’s point of view… I also agree that I will always remember this trilogy and most likely re-read it!! Love loved it!!!

  3. I read only the first free page on my iPad, and thought B-O-R-I-N-G. Nothing happened. Dull writing, mistakes. Your review is excellent. I will give the book another try. I had no idea it had sold 10 million copies. It probably is because she delved into the psychological background and went deeper than just sex. Although, I hear the sex is pretty stimulating. 😉

  4. Cara Bristol says:

    I guess that will make it 10,000,001 copies sold! LOL. Yes, the sex in the book is GOOD.

  5. Karla Doyle says:

    As much as I’d like to see what all the fuss is about, the first-person in present tense is a dealbreaker for me. (Sorry to all the authors this will offend, but I find present tense very jarring — it completely prevents me from enjoying even a single page of a story.)

    I have two close friends who’ve read 50 Shades. One burned through the trilogy and couldn’t say enough great things about it. She thought the sex scenes were amazing. My other friend stopped after the first book, and while she liked it well enough, she didn’t love it. She found the sex scenes disappointing compared to other books she’s read.

    Reading…such a subjective thing! So glad there are books out there to please each and every one of us!

    Great post & review, Cara. I enjoyed your take on the 50 Shades phenomenon.

  6. Layna Pimentel says:

    Amen! Finally a review I can agree with.

    You nailed it, Cara. The editing was a big issue for me, but I still enjoyed the premise immensely.
    Though, I have to agree somewhat with Kara. This story written in the first person threw me for a loop at first, yet it worked in the end.

    Considering I’ve now read the books twice, I can honestly say the characters were strong and memorable. The premise worked and despite the unlikelihood of that situation occuring in real life, this is what we call fiction people.

    Thanks for sharing Cara!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Thanks, Layna. In general I like first person, although I find it jarring in some romances I’ve read. It’s just not what one is used to. One of the things I like in a romance is knowing what the man is thinking and feeling, which you can’t get when a book is in first person from the heroine’s POV.

      Once I got over the initial “bump” in Fifty Shades, I enjoyed the first person POV because it made Christian more intriguing. The reader went through what Ana went through (her confusion, doubt).

  7. Wendy says:

    I agree with you 100% Cara! I wasn’t so sure when I first started but it didn’t take long for me to be hooked! Infact, I’ve burned through the trilogy twice now…loved it even more the second time around!

  8. Mindy Byrne says:

    I completely agree that the series just kept getting better and better….Fifty Shades of Grey was good, Darker was better, and Freed was the best:) I’ll agree that the repetition was somewhat annoying (her always referring to it as “down there”), etc, but the story was believable and well constructed. I really enjoyed the epilogue, because I enjoy knowing what happens in the future to all characters,…as well the “Meet Christian Grey” chapter was very insightful.

  9. Tanya says:

    I’m so glad to read a review that isn’t totally negative. I had seen all the comments on Amazon’s website about the books, but still bought the first one, hoping I would like it,and boy did I. Yes, there are some things that come off as kind of silly. But, I fell in love with Ana and Christian and can’t wait to read the other two books to see how they make out. The sex scenes are really hot. But the relationship between the two is interesting and believable.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I agree. Ana and Christian have a very strong connection. They’re both so obviously taken with each other.

  10. Beth H. says:

    I absolutely love this trilogy. I burned through all three in four days. I am currently rereading it. I love the plot. It keeps you reading just to find out more about Christian. I find your review dead on. And I totally agree. I look forward to more stories by E. L.

  11. Couldn’t agree more! Great review. I, too, took issue with the editing. The “oh my”s and “holy crap”s and “jeez”es annoyed me to distraction. Nothing kills a good sex scene like “oh my.” It sounds like something my grandmother would say. And thinking about your grandmother while you’re reading about sex is NEVER a good thing.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Thank you! I wasn’t sure if I was off base about the “oh my.” “Oh my” reminded me of a middle-aged spinster.

  12. FiftyShadesOfSuck says:

    Complete. Utter. Crap.

  13. Lissy says:

    Totally agree about the editing… It might not be a pulitzer award winning novel… But the characters are endearing! You come to love Ana & Christian… as well as the rest of the Greys and the stafff !!! I burned thru the trilogy… 3 books over Memorial weekend and would not mind a 4th watsoever. Would love to see EL James write a book from Christian’s perspective…!!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Yes, the characters are very endearing. I don’t know that an erotic novel would ever win a Pulitzer, no matter how well-edited, which says something about society’s attitudes toward sex, I think.

  14. Thank you so much for this review. A couple of my friends who are unaware of my secret life as “Celeste Jones, Naughty Story Writer” have mentioned reading the book, so it has been tricky for me to feign a lack of knowledge of the overall subject matter. What I find annoying about all the hubbub over this book is the fact that my friends, and probably thousands of others out there, are suddenly hip and cool for reading this book, but if I came out, so to speak, about my writing, I would not get the same stamp of approval. Maybe I’m just bitter. 🙂

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I’m sorry to hear that, Celeste. Maybe you can test the waters now. I think 50 Shades has made reading/writing erotic fiction more acceptable. At first I was hesitant to tell people what I do, but then I realized you can’t sell books if nobody knows they exist. I’ve been very surprised at who supports me — people I never thought would read erotic fiction. For me, it boils down to this: I am who I am and write what I write. I’m proud of what I do.

  15. You make a good point. Maybe I’ll test the waters soon. I’ll keep you posted.

  16. janeuro says:

    Thankyou for this lovely review.
    Editing? –but wasn’t that the husbands dept? (always satisfying if any way is found to blame them) … but, in this case I think, irrelevant ? This was a knockout anyway, surely, if >> 10 x 10 6 are sold despite flaws? Literary critics are routinely damning …just like this…for lack of any literary technique (& for smut)– but maybe, do you think ? it shows that literary technique might only ever take a good writer SOO far & that editing not so critical after all? You writers always get so chronic about technique but most normal ignorant readers out there- we don’t care. All this success says maybe…that it has really pretty damn good bones (& sex) if it succeeds DESPITE all that??
    And eloquence and supreme cleverness- it looks so impressive, virtuous but does it ever have a little cooling effect- cause a bit of distance, sterility?

  17. janeuro says:

    ….& nice to see S Meyer finally, takes an officially positive view too (though she seems incurably nice)

  18. Jennifer says:

    I completely agree with janeuro the average reader, myself included, doesn’t pick up on all of the “problems” with editing. I absolutely loved the story and the chemistry between Ana & Chrisitan. I know I can repeat a lot of things over and over in my head, so the “oh my’s” to me seemed believable. I have read the trilogy 3 times so I am probably a “little” more obsessed with Fifty Shades than the average reader, but I would definitely fork over more cash for another book in this series or anything else EL James may write. Thanks for a great review.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Yes, I felt the chemistry was the strongest element of story. Being an author tends to make one more critical of what reads. We are not the average reader, I don’t think.

  19. Erika Moran says:

    Excellent review. I was taken with the characters also, and I definitely wanted to see how it ended, but the third volume just got to be a slog, for me at least. By that point Ana’s constant orgasms almost got in the way of finishing the book. Almost 🙂

    I can’t help feeling that if it were tightened up more and edited more strictly it would have made an outstanding one volume read. But I enjoyed it.

    There used to be a saying about Star Trek – Bad science fiction is better than no S-F at all. Pretty much the same thing here – even if you don’t like it, a work that touches that many people about BDSM in a favorable light is better than not having the mainstream know at all…

  20. Hi Cara! Great review! I’ve now read all three and agree, major editing is needed and it seems the plot for Ana and Christian kinda needs a suspension of disbelief but they are two people I won’t forget…and that’s what makes great books!

  21. I’m about a third of the way through and still haven’t given up on it entirely, and I’ll wait till I’m done to say whether I liked it or not. So far, I’m not liking it, but I’ve heard the best parts come later, so I should be patient.

    However, I do want to comment on the lack of editing. You know, questioning the editing when you see poor style is kind of easy (maybe because editors do niggle on style a lot), but it’s not valid. Many times, editors hold back for various reasons. Authors argue that they *can’t* make changes. Publishers ask editors to go easy. But always, ultimately, the book’s style (which includes such diverse things as word repeats and poor characterization, both of which plague Fifty Shades ) is the author’s responsibility. These are things that should be addressed before submission. Editors are tasked with looking at an already polished manuscript, the very best that an author can offer, and turning that into something that their audience will admire and want to buy.

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