Thoughts on “Fifty Shades of Grey”

So, “Fifty Shades of Grey”. BDSM-themed fiction, currently a the top of the mainstream fiction chart… Hands up who’s read it? I finished it late last night, determined to reach the end, and I thought I’d share my views.

It really is wonderful to realise that so many people are encountering a taste of our world through E L James’s work. It’s great to see some crossover – to be able to read such naughtiness unashamedly on a train or in a coffee shop, for example. And (trying hard to avoid spoilers here) there’s much to commend the book: some sections that are very hot indeed, some great epistolary exchanges. It’d argue that it’s a must-read novel for people like us.

Of course, the premise is far-fetched – young, fabulously-wealthy businessman falls for virginal student when she interviews him for her University newspaper – but this is fantasy, right? Yes, it’s perhaps a little long and a tad repetitive at times, but I can live with that. It can feel a little clinical – the ever-so-careful mention of him putting on a condom each time before they have sex, for example. There’s little real empathy with kink – the descriptions of his play room feel like the sort of thing a slightly-freaked-out vanilla would write if they’d been taking notes on a guided tour during a field trip; would an experienced top / dom really complain that his hand was “very sore” after administering a short spanking?

More concerning than that, though, is the motivation of the two characters. Ana’s rationale for her kinky experimentation is purely to please Christian; it’s really not her thing. He’s only into BDSM because he’s damaged by a relationship he had as a teenager with an older married woman. When he “hits” her, it’s because he wants to; she tolerates him doing so because she wants to please him; she wishes fervently that he was “like her” instead.

Oh for a book in which the young woman explores kink because that’s what she enjoys; for a top who’s not into it as a means of processing past bad experiences. Yet again – rather as was the case, to an extent, with ‘Secretary’ – the outside world gets a glimpse of our interests, finds it fascinating, yet is left feeling that kink is fundamentally unhealthy. And that saddens me. Yet if it does inspire some readers to understand and explore their previously-kept-secret interests, then the book is fundamentally A Good Thing. I just wish I could say so wholeheartedly, without reservation.

13 thoughts on “Thoughts on “Fifty Shades of Grey”

  • 3 May, 2012 at 8:07 am

    I agree with pretty much all of what you’ve written above. I was hoping that as the book progresses, Ana would find that BDSM isn’t that bad – and let’s face it, none of the BDSM in this book was extreme in any way. But then I suppose it’s a trilogy and there wouldn’t be much story left to fill the other books if Ana had just decided it was all good and the characters lived happily ever after.

    In any case, I think some vanilla readers might be interested enough to read up a little bit more about kink and such. And who knows, they might even try it themselves!

  • 3 May, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    I haven’t read this book, but agree with both Abel and Irelynn. My ‘interest’ (although I was so inclined from childhood) was first sparked again fairly recently by reading “An Appointment with her Master” by Portia Da Costa, also by ‘Chance of a Lifetime’ by the same author. In both cases, the lady, or bottom, pursues her kink interests because she wants and enjoys it and gains pleasure from it. There is no question that she is doing it to please the man, or that she (or indeed him) are somewhat damaged to want this. You might like to try reading them!

  • 3 May, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    p.s. I had to look up “epistolary”, but I know now:)

  • 3 May, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    I have read all three and very much enjoyed them, but it worries me that this is the first impression of BDSM for many people. I hope we get A bigger variety of mainstream BDSM fiction so people realise we’re not all doing this because we have problems

  • 3 May, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    I haven’t read the book but I think that the dynamic described in it wouldn’t be my taste, anyway. And, quite frankly, given what I know about the book from the reviews, I share your resentments, Abel.

    It’s a pity that a book like Niki Flynn’s “Dances with Werewolves” won’t ever become as popular in the vanilla world as “Fifty Shades of Grey”. Because that’s a book written by a woman who really knew what she wanted and who lived out the fantasies she wanted to explore. And, Niki also has a great style of writing.

  • 3 May, 2012 at 11:37 pm

    Thanks all for the comments: a consensus emerging.

    Kaelah – I actually recommended Niki’s book in my review of “50 Shades” on Amazon. Wonder if it’ll help anyone to discover it?

  • 4 May, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    I read bits and pieces when it was still a fanfic over on TWCS. I don’t know that particular author, but I’ve always felt a little proud of her for writing something that so explosively ‘made it’ beyond the Twilight groupies. On the other hand, the bits and pieces I read did not really inspire me to read more for the reasons already stated. It didn’t feel as if the writer shared the interest, but was more like standing at the window and looking in, recording what she saw–in some places doing quite well, but in others falling a little flat.

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  • 5 May, 2012 at 5:43 am

    I think you hit the nail on the head, Abel.

    My biggest problem with this book is the nudge, nudge, wink, wink I get from vanilla friends (who, btw, don’t know my side of the fence) who say that “hey, this is how it is”.

    What really surprised me is the Dr. Oz show actually did an entire show on this book and the craze. He explained how brinking a “little” kink into the bedroom can “spice up” a vanilla’s love life.

    That may be, but to purport that this is how the lifestyle really works is like saying Avatar is how N.A.S.A. really explores worlds.

    It’s a fantasy. I wish the author well and much success, but no one in the real lifestyle should confuse it with acceptance.

    One female audience member on the Dr. Oz show did not like the book, feeling that Christian Grey was exhibiting the behavior of a stalker and abuser and that his relationship with the girl mirrored one of domestic violence.

    Okay, I’m pointing out one desenter, but we all know vanillas like this woman who think we’re borderline Marquis De Sade’s and submissives are foolish, unintelligent pawns (oh, if she only knew that the true power was all in the sub’s hands).

    I was most concerned with the woman’s lack of vision and imagination, but Dr. Oz downplayed it and turned the subject back to happy horsecrap “spice up your love life” stuff. I say that because to really experience our “thing” we all know there’s got to be a mindset and their are 1,000 permutations for every aspect. You can’t do it all in one 44 minute show.

    I might be asking for too much, since a true exploration of the D/s (and I use that as an umbrella and shouldn’t) world would be a series of books, movies and television programs (like Real Sex on HBO, though they often got it wrong too).

    Anyway, like I said, more power to E.L. James for literary sucess, but she ain’t our Messiah.

    Oh, and thanks for your review, Abel, you did, indeed, hit all the nails on their … heads.


  • 5 May, 2012 at 5:45 am

    I too have enjoyed seeing our kink go mainstream with the success of this book, but agree that once again we are portrayed as being so damaged that this is what our sexuality is reduced to. I would point to A Dangerous Method as another recent example, and one that even had me questioning my sanity for a bit and I’ve been quite content with my kink for almost 2 decades.

    As for not being inspired Maren, that really doesn’t surprise me at all – 50 Shades doesn’t come close to the beautiful stories you write. The Locket was absolutely perfect; it should be the book that takes our kink mainstream.

  • 5 May, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Oh… Abel Abel Abel… kink aside, how, as a writer – and a damn fine writer at that! – can you suggest this book?

    I wanted to cry for lack of artistry. I have so many other problems with this book – although I will concede that the possibility of it opening up minds to kink and other erotica may be good – but really, I just couldn’t in all good conscience suggest it to anyone: the characters are unrealistic and emotionally unintelligent… and the writing is POOR.

    That this book is topping best seller lists is depressing at best.

  • 10 May, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    I read this and other reviews with interest. It doesn’t happen every day to find a book like this in the “fiction” shelves of a bookstore.
    As a kinkster and and avid reader, I have to confess I was really tempted to read this book. Now I don’t think I will.
    I read a couple of excerpts and they weren’t bad. That said, I can find better stuff in many places on the internet (like here). I don’t want to feel the same kind of disappointment I had after reading Coelho’s “Eleven minutes”, where the kink was basically described as the perfect antithesis of true love. Sad, inaccurate and slightly irritating.

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