Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Review: "Fifty Shades of Grey"

I’m a writer and a reader, but I’m not big on writing reviews.  They feel like book reports to me.  The ones I have written in the past wither on the page when compared to those written by people who have even a minor talent for such assessments.  However, I have recently read two books which I think deserve at least an effort on my part.  (I will write the reviews in separate entries.)  

The first book, I am reviewing because I want to get my strong opinions about the writing and storyline out.  This book was recommended to me by several people, some of which compared the writing to my own, so I feel obligated to give my opinion.  And here I emphasize that it is my opinion.  It is not meant to sway other readers one way or the other.  It is merely my own view on the things that I picked up while reading.
(Fifty Shade of Grey, by E.L. James)

The second book was Christmas gift from my father.  I read this book in less than a week, which is saying something since my life is a hectic blur most of the time.  But I couldn’t put this book down.  I loved it so much that I want to write a review to share with the author and future readers.  Again, though, it is my opinion and thus not meant to sway anyone.  
(Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo)

Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James

2.5 stars


When I started reading this, I went in with mixed feelings.  I had read several reviews, good and bad, and I had been told by a few people who have read some of my pieces that this book reminded them of my writing.  The unfavorable reviews I had read said the writing was horrible, so I started this book on the defensive.  

But, there is a big difference between writing and story or scenes.

If I had been an agent following the 5-page rule--meaning if I didn’t like/love it in the first five pages, then I’d reject it--I never would have signed this book.  The first five pages were incredibly dull and filled with excessive use of adjectives.  In fact, within the first three pages there was a sentence that used eight adjectives.  Eight!  In one sentence.  By the time I got to end of the sentence, I had to look back to remember just what the author was talking about to begin with.  

These first pages also gave amazing detail for a scene that would never again be visited.  Superfluous descriptions of the lobby of a building left me hoping that this scene would become important later in the story.  That I hadn’t wasted my time reading something that would end up having nothing to do with the story at all.  But, that’s exactly what it was.  Every bit of that useless description could have been cut from the book, and it wouldn’t have been missed by any reader.

I did notice that the writing got better as the book progressed, but I still think the entire thing could use a good editor.  It would probably be half the length if all the clutter was cut.  It would also be easier to tolerate.

The story is okay.  It really only follows Ana and Grey along in their relationship without giving much information outside of that.  Even when Ana, who is telling the story, isn’t with Grey, she constantly thing about him.  He totally consumes her.  

Ana doesn’t ring true to me, either.  I find it very hard to believe that a young (heterosexual) woman of twenty-two has never found interest in a man.  Especially in today’s world.  The virginity thing is completely understandable, but I challenge you to find a woman today of that age who has never been attracted to a male.  This reader just doesn’t buy it.

The sex scenes are better than the rest of the story, almost like everything that isn’t dealing with sex is just filler to get to the next sex scene.  The BDSM aspect was obvious from the moment I met Grey.  The scene where he and Ana met reminded me of a James Spader movie called Secretary.  

I’ve read my share of romance and erotica and all the stories that fall between them.  This book was classified--basically--as mainstream erotica.  The BDSM made it that.  And the language.  The sex scenes in this book, while erotic, are more of an erotic romance type than straight-up erotica.  James gives details, but no more than a book from Harlequin's Blaze series.  (And those are better stories with better writing.)

Personally, curse words, especially the f-bomb, seem to be used for shock factor by authors that perhaps aren’t eloquent enough with their vocabulary to express what they really want to say.  There are exceptions within characters, but if Ana is as innocent as James would have us believe, she wouldn’t use the f-bomb except to reflect on Grey’s words.  But she does.  Although, maybe that part of her is just a twist in her personality.  I thought that she came off as the religious zealot type, without the religion, so her extensive use of the f-bomb could’ve been replace with other, lesser words like hell or shit.  James used the f-bomb more and more as the story progressed.

Then there’s the “inner goddess” and “subconscious” aspect of Ana.  She talked about them so much--my “inner goddess” count ended at 48--and gave them such distinctive personalities that I wouldn’t be surprised if she was later diagnosed with multiple personality disorder or some other mental distress involving polyphony.  She even goes so far as to describe their physical appearances, like the “half-moon spectacles” of the subconscious.  Essentially these two characters, for they are indeed minor supporting characters, are the proverbial “angel” and “devil” sitting on Ana’s shoulders.

If the other supporting characters had been developed as well as the “inner goddess” and “subconscious” the story would have been more well rounded.  Making Jose more direct in his pursuit of Ana, for example, would have caused more conflict all around.  This reader would have liked to see Grey have to “fight” for Ana’s affection instead of just having her melt into a pile of goo in his presence.

The ending, now that was something.  I loved the ending.  So often books end happily with the hero and heroine falling madly in love and getting married, all loose ends neatly tidied up.  And I know that, in general, readers want that happy ending, but occasionally I’d like to see the heroine or hero fall flat, fail to reach that plateau where the sky is a cloudless blue and the sun shines so there are no shadows.  Don’t get me wrong, I do love happy endings because they make me feel like life isn’t always an uphill battle, but every so often I’d like to see something different.  Fifty Shades of Grey provided that sadder ending when Ana left Grey, admitting that neither of them could give the other what they wanted or needed.  I enjoyed reading her exit from his life without preamble.  I am happy with that ending, even knowing there are two more books to complete their story.  For me, it’s over.  She left.  End of story.  

If I do read the next book, I sincerely hope that Jose becomes a more pertinent character.  I hope that the editor she is going to work for is also groomed into a well-rounded character.  Especially since he was described with the same “dark expression” as Grey when Ana met him.

I’m not saying it was a bad book.  It wasn’t horrible, but wasn’t the 5-star spectacle that society made it out to be, either.  As I said in the beginning, I started this book on the defensive, and I read it with a very critical eye.  But, it wasn’t meant to be a literary masterpiece, as one friend pointed out.  

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