50 Shades of Grey – Book Review

Never one to resist the hype of a good read, or rather the claim of “Mommy Porn,” I downloaded EL James’ 50 Shades of Grey, anticipating an entertaining page-turner, a modern-day love affair (I pictured my grandma’s collection of old romance novels, taking place in the now, equipped with texting and instant messages). Having no further background than the porno reference, I was stunned – shocked – at what waited in the pages before me. Not because of the explicit sex scenes, but rather the terribly underdeveloped protagonist, the unrealistic storyline – and above all else, the bitterly disappointing message this novel sends to all women about the value of love within a relationship.

Please stop meow if you don’t want anything about the plot revealed.

The novel opens with protagonist, Anastasia Steele, stepping in for her BFF, Katherine Kavanaugh, to interview wealthy and powerful “multi-bagillionaire,” Christian Grey, for an article for the school newspaper. Ana and Kate are both graduating in a few short weeks and Christian Grey is scheduled to deliver the commencement address. Anastasia shows up for the interview and the picture of a young woman completely unsure of herself, uncomfortable in her own skin, is painted. Clumsy and naive, Ana literally face plants into Grey’s office. He is amused (naturally) and gives Ana a stare down that makes her “flush crimson” – which she will literally do about 200 more times in the novel. Grey seems to be intrigued with Miss Steele, which she cannot seem to fathom, so awkwardly leaves his office, her mind completely consumed with him in the process.
Their interaction doesn’t stop there. Kate insists that Mr. Grey meet them the following week for an original photo shoot for the article, which Anastasia arranges in a hotel room somewhere near campus – Grey is already there on business. After the shoot Grey asks her to join him for coffee. This is when we start to get a glimpse into the background of both characters. At only 27 years old, Grey is portrayed as someone well beyond his years. I don’t know any 27 year old – let alone a 35-year-old – who could play in the same arena as this man. Ana is everything that we despise about Twilight heroine Bella Swan – painfully aware of her shortcomings, juxtaposed as a very immature, inexperienced girl and a woman with a thesaurus vocabulary and a moderately smart mouth. Christian’s interest in Ana is building, as depicted by his “wicked grin” and cool stare (if you drink every time the author uses “wicked grin” and “flushed crimson” you will be blackout-drunk by Chapter 4). Ana is like putty in his hands. He seals her fate when she drunk dials him from the bar later that week (real professional, Ana!) and then playfully hangs up on him. He of course has the ability to track her phone, shows up at the bar, and holds back her hair while she pukes her guts out. Why did she get so drunk? Oh, because she had never drank before.

Ana wakes up the next morning in his hotel room – fully clothed – and he asks to see her again under better circumstances. The tension is building. In the following pages, we see a relationship develop, as the wealthy Christian showers her with gifts, such as a laptop and an Audi, as well as his signature lack of emotional availability. Eventually, amid warnings about his own dark secrets, Christian Grey tells Ana who he really is – a sexual deviant who likes to dominate his women into submission – literally. He wants Ana to be his sexual slave, locked under his thumb, required to sign a contract (unenforceable by law), that locks her into a set of rules. The breaking of said rules, according to the contract, is punishable by time in his “Playroom” or mini torture chamber – nothing life threatening, though. Along with this reveal, he asks her to sign an NDA, no doubt to preserve his professional reputation.

And then it’s time for Ana’s big reveal. She is a virgin.

The plot thickens.

Let us now pause to assess the situation: First of all, Ana manages to graduate college without ever being drunk, ever having sex, and without owning a laptop. The last point is what concerns me the most. When Christian buys her a top of the line MacBook, she refers to it as the “mean machine.” Are you kidding me? We have a girl – a virgin – tampering with a guy who wants to get his rocks off by beating the crap out of her – and she is okay with this – but then she refers to a laptop as a mean machine and to Christian as a multi-bagillionaire. Who is this idiot?

Moving on.

The contract has a list of rules that Ana will be required to follow. She must workout, eat regularly, maintain her health and hygiene, wear the clothing he provides, obey his every request, and spend every weekend with him for a period of three months. She also is forbidden to touch Christian or make eye contact with him. The contract is negotiable, so she opts to change the mandated number of workouts from four-times per week to three. This is completely logical, I mean what normal girls wants to touch or make eye contact with her lover anyway?

While the contract is still a matter of discussion, Christian and Anastasia consummate their relationship. Surprise! She has five orgasms the first time. And then dons her hair in pigtails and dances around his kitchen, Risky Business style, while preparing him breakfast. Of course it didn’t make a difference that he had punished her with a spanking. Spoiler alert! Virgins dig that stuff.

In the last 25% of the book, the relationship between the two grows stronger, but more confusing. Ana becomes a bit more believable as James gets her stride in character development and it turns out the Christian has a bit of a soul (gasp!). The most charming and realistic banter between the characters takes place during playful email exchanges, however, the actual dialogue between characters is unrealistic, with the regular use of the words “ill,” “pleased,” and “shall.” For a modern-day romance, the language is flawed and more advanced readers will become impatient with the constant reuse of adjectives and the periodic use of thesaurus synonyms that stick out like a sore thumb. I mean, I would tell my boyfriend that he beguiled me if he asked if he could whip me with a riding crop, too.

The larger issue that this novel presents is that women should never be comfortable offering their bodies to a man that makes it clear he is emotionally incapable of love and perfectly willing to implement capital punishment for eye rolling. Grey is a quintessential predator, Ana his prey, and the plot insinuates that, for the sake of eroticism, this is acceptable. Only at the very end does Ana come to terms with her fate. The final four pages do convince readers to continue with the next book in the trilogy. Mission accomplished, James! However, if they continue remotely in the same fashion as the first, they will leave much to be desired – beyond, of course, a story laced with Mommy Porn.

50 Shades of Grey supposedly started off as fan fiction, based on the Twilight series. While James had every opportunity to create a stronger, more emotionally developed protagonist, she created a world to which the boundaries of sexual delinquency, love, and relationships are blurred beyond distinction. While Twilight is flawed in its writing style, at least the story line paints a picture of loving and committed relationships – something that is completely butchered in 50 Shades of Grey. Being the curious little bird that I am, I will keep reading and will drink again to a wicked storyline that had me flushing crimson on the subway – fingers crossed it isn’t a disappointment, but at least I know what to expect.