Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James

Review published on May 26, 2012.Reviewed by Marleen Kennedy

Anastasia Steele, a young literature student, is reluctantly drafted by her friend Katherine to interview Christian Grey, a very successful and even more attractive business man. When she literally falls through his office door and subsequently makes a mess of some of the questions she’s supposed to be asking she is convinced that the man must be disgusted with her. Much to her surprise though, Grey shows up in the shop where she has a part-time job and asks her out. Ana finds herself very attracted to this intriguing man and agrees to meet him, only for Grey to warn her that she should be keeping her distance from him.

It seems though that Grey can’t stay away from Ana, despite what he told her, and it isn’t long before Ana finds herself getting very close to the sexy man. But while Ana is new to love affairs and sex, Grey is a very troubled man who claims to be incapable of having normal relationships, hates being touched and demands to be in full control of both Ana and their relationship. What Grey wants is a relationship where he will be the Dominant to her role as a Submissive and he’s drawn up the contract to control how that should work. Ana finds herself very confused. While she is extremely attracted to Grey and experiencing great pleasure every time they get together, the idea of being dominated and having to endure pain scares her and makes her want to run away. At the same time another part of her thinks that she might be able to safe this man from the demons that haunt him.
Both Ana and Christian will find themselves experiencing a lot of firsts during their time together, but is their obvious attraction to each other enough to overcome the huge differences between them?

Phew, what to say about this book? From all the attention this author and her books have been receiving lately, I had a pretty good idea what to expect and it is safe to say I got just that. Yes, this is one very steamy story with lots of rather graphic descriptions of far from ordinary sexual relations. Yes, the similarities between Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight and this book are clear. Both books deal with an innocent young girl falling for a man with a very obvious dark-side who she should probably stay well away from but is incapable of ignoring. And yes, this book is unlikely to ever win a literary prize.

However, I also found this to be an entertaining story that kept me turning the pages. If you read beyond the sex scenes this is basically a love story about two people who desperately want and need to be together but are being kept apart by differences in their backgrounds and expectations, that they may or may not be able to overcome. I guess E.L. James just uses a different, and rather more graphic than usual, device to point those differences out. While I’m sure there would have been a lot of other ways in which Christian’s need to control Ana could have been depicted, the author has chosen one which, while graphic, also makes quite clear how deep-seated his issues are.

I have to admit that there were a few things in this book that had me exasperated. The references to Ana’s “Inner Goddess” and “Sub-conscious” got old very fast after the first few mentions. Yes, the girl is having a rather lively debate going on inside herself about the sense in having a relationship with this obviously very complicated and damaged man, but do the two sides of that argument really have to have separate identities as if they are extra characters in the story?

I guess there comes a time in any book reviewer’s life when they have to reflect on the standards by which they actually judge a book. Is it literary merit? Is it the quality of words and sentences used? Is it just a question of whether or not the book delivers a good and/or captivating story? Is it a little bit of all of those or does even that depend on the book they happen to be reading? I decided that for me, with this book, judging was to take place purely on whether or not I enjoyed the reading experience. And I did.

Readers can be divided into a whole host of categories. For the purpose of this review I’d like to highlight two; those who enjoy (explicit) sex-scenes and those who don’t. Any reader falling into the later category would do well to steer clear of this book since there are at least as many descriptions of, rather unorthodox, sex as there is overall story. Anybody who enjoys reading such scenes, for whatever reason, will get more than their fill in this story.

This is probably the first time ever that I almost feel the need to apologise for enjoying a book. Objectively there is so much wrong with this book while subjectively, I found myself unable to stop turning the pages and forced to buy the two sequels. I guess this book should be filed under the label: guilty pleasures.


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