Arts & Culture: Review of Fifty Shades of Grey

10 Feb


By Evan Zenobia

A meaningless setting. A cast of thoroughly unbelievable, unrelatable, one-dimensional characters. Add some poorly written dialogue and boring sex, and what do you get? The inexplicably popular jumble of words and paper that E.L. James has somehow managed to pass off as literature.

I’m referring, of course, to Fifty Shades of Grey, which I’ve spent the last two and half weeks subjecting myself to in tolerable doses. Now that I am finally done, I have no quandaries about calling it the worst book I have ever read. There are poorly written books that still contain good stories, or at least carry a good message. And there are well written books that may still follow a bad story arc. But Fifty Shades is poorly written and a bad story. It has literally n0 redeeming qualities.

The “plot,” if it can be fairly called that, revolves around utterly boring literature student/graduate Anastasia Steele and her “erotic” adventures with the mysterious and wildly handsome young billionaire Christian Grey. The motor that drives the dilapidated hull of a storyline along is fuelled by Steele’s trying to reconcile her sexual inexperience and romantic longing with Grey’s “kinky” sexual habits.

But really, for a 514 page erotic novel, I have never read anything so dull. And on top of the dullness, almost every aspect of the story is irritating.

Consider the setting. James sets her novel in Washington State, in the United States. Which is strange, considering that most of the characters speak as if they’re well-read 19th century British aristocrats, using words like “profligate” and “taciturn” in everyday conversation. Excepting, of course, Steele’s token Latino friend, José, who throws colloquial Spanish into his speech with the frequency of Speedy Gonzales.

Also irritating is that James has chosen to write her book in first-person present tense. That alone is not the problem. Chuck Palahniuk wrote Fight Club the same way. But in Fight Club, the protagonist is crazy and also represents a social critique. In Fifty Shades, the protagonist is an insufferable, stupid, and boring. As such, the audience is forced to endure every stupid and pretentious thought that comes into her mind, whether it’s expressing her distaste for rap music before a BDSM romp or this gem on page 28, “I feel the color in my cheeks rising again. I must be color of The Communist Manifesto.” (because, of course, Communist Manifesto is a shade of red you can find in any box of crayons or on paint swatches at Home Depot, and the Manifesto isn’t printed in black and white like every other book).

Meanwhile, the characters are almost all props leading up to the sex scenes, including Steele herself. Anastasia Steele apparently has three settings: blushing (sometimes the colour of communism), biting her lip (which arouses Grey), and drinking tea (again, mimicking the landed gentry of 19th century England). By her own admission, her favourite activity is reading old British novels by herself, and, at the age of 21, has never been drunk until Chapter 4 after finishing her final exams (newsflash to Steele: if you’re a literature student, and you’re not drunk until after your semester, you’re doing it wrong). She’s clumsy, and her hair never cooperates. Oh yes, and she’s a virgin.

Though this dull, sober virgin is pursued by José and her boss’s son, she is only attracted to the young, gorgeous billionaire with the personality of an anal-retentive Jack Donaghy/Gordon Gecko hybrid… only less interesting. Christian Grey is just a creepy guy. He’s arrogant. When Steele drunk dials him, he tracks her phone, drives to find her, holds her hair while she pukes, then drives her unconscious body to his hotel room where he tucks her into bed and removes her vomit-stained pants before sleeping (but not banging) her. Then he sends his personal assistant to buy her sexy underwear.

In what world is stalking, kidnapping, and partially undressing someone without their consent not creepy?

Oh, and speaking of consent. A huge part of Grey’s kink is that he doesn’t have sex without written consent. In fact, he’s got a pile of paperwork to sign before sex can begin. Now, personally, I can’t think of anything less arousing than paperwork. Filing taxes and writing incident reports never got my blood going. But for super virgin bookworm Anastasia Steele, it’s just the right thing. And even though Grey is an emotionally distant, creepy, stalker jerk, she is so desperate to be with him that she puts up with it all.

The only other character that needs mention is Steele’s beautiful blonde roommate, Katherine Kavanagh. She begins a deep relationship with Grey’s brother Elliot. What doesn’t make sense, however, is that she maintains it even as she develops a fierce hostility towards Christian Grey. The character is not at all developed, so her behaviour comes off as shallow and irrational.

Aside from all that, the book is just bad. The writing is awkward and clunky. James pretentiously jams her book full of obscure synonyms, obviously hoping it will make the story appear to be a fine work of literature rather than boring mommy porn. Meanwhile, she takes more than one occasion to remind the audience of the supremacy of the British, especially in terms of literature, and the unbearability of the French and others. While offensive, it fits in with the rest of the book’s undeserved pretentious snobbishness.

Further, the book appears longer than it actually is. A good chunk of the paper is wasted in blank space representing an excessively long chain of email correspondences between Steele and Grey. Apparently they never heard of texting.

I don’t want to spoil too much, so I’ll leave it at that. This is the worst book I have ever read. I can only award it negative stars.

Oh, and the sex is all really, really boring. You know you’re doing smut wrong when the actual smut of the pathetic filler you’ve cobbled together is actually less readable than the pathetic filler.

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